Does your young child dream of becoming the next big Olympic star or pro athlete? While you might share those goals, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reminds parents to take a common-sense approach to sports training.
These days, it's rare to see kids outside playing basketball or choosing teams for a neighborhood baseball game. More young children are picking a single sport and playing all year, according to the AAP clinical report, "Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes." This early, intense focus can cause injury, stress and lost interest in sports. Parents also feel pressure to spend time and money on programs that are not proven successful.
Sports specialization is when a child focuses on only one sport, usually year-round. Parents and coaches are the biggest reasons why children decide to train intensely, according to the AAP report.
The AAP encourages an approach that will keep kids active and healthy for a lifetime:
Allow young children to play a variety of sports. Studies show that children develop best when playing different types of sports before
puberty. They also are less likely to lose interest or
Wait until after age 15 or 16 to allow your child to specialize in a sport. Elite athletes who explored a variety of sports and specialized later were more likely to be successful, according to recent studies. Those who trained in one sport at a young age had shorter athletic careers.
Think about why you or your child wants to specialize. Is it for success in college? About 3% to 11% of high school athletes compete at a college level, and only 1% receive an athletic scholarship.
Keep an eye on your child's health. Growing athletes need more calories from foods high in iron, calcium and vitamin D. Teen girls should watch for problems caused by overtraining, like missed periods.
About half of all sports injuries are caused by overtraining. Young athletes can
avoid injuries by not training more hours per week than their age. The AAP advises them to rest one to two days per week and take at least three months off during the year in one-month increments from their sport.
Additional Information from HealthyChildren.org: