This week is National Youth Sports Specialization Awareness Week! You might wonder, “What does that mean exactly and how does it affect me?” Early sports specialization is defined as “intense year-round training in a specific sport with the exclusion of other sports at a young age.”
In other words, if an athlete is highly dedicated to one sport they love, that’s great! But, research tells us that it can also put the athlete at a significantly increased risk of an overuse injury. So, how does this affect you as a coach, athletic trainer or parent? It’s essential to be aware of youth sport specialization safety recommendations to help athletes stay safe, increase the longevity of their sports career, and, most importantly, keep them involved in the sport they enjoy so much!
In 2020, the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) released helpful guidance for supporting youth athletes as they become more specialized in one sport. Take a look below for more information. Remember, sports safety organizations like InjureFree support risk management, documentation, and coach education efforts and empower coaches, parents and organizations to prioritize athlete safety initiatives.
- Delay specializing in a single sport for as long as possible: Encourage youth athletes to participate in or try a variety of sports! It increases athletic skill sets and enjoyment, supports physical health, and reduces injury risk.
- 1 team at a time: Youth athletes should participate in 1 organized sport per season. Many youth athletes participate or train year-round in a single sport while competing in other organized sports.
- Less than eight months per year: Ideally, youth athletes should avoid playing one sport more than eight months per year.
- No more hours per week than age in years: Youth athletes should also avoid participating in organized sports and/or activities more hours per week than their age (i.e., a 12-year-old athlete should not participate in more than 12 hours per week of organized sport).
- 2 days of rest per week: Youth athletes should have a minimum of 2 days off per week from organized training and competition. Athletes should not participate in other organized team sports or training on rest and recovery days.
- Rest and recovery time from organized sports participation: Youth athletes should be encouraged to spend some healthy time away from their sport at the end of each season. This allows for physical and mental recovery, promotes well-being, and minimizes the risk of injury and burnout.
To learn more, click here to view NATA’s educational infographic on the subject!