Multi-Sport Athletes: To Specialize or Not Dr. Nirav K. Pandya
With an increasing emphasis in high school athletics on obtaining a scholarship, there has been a rapid decline in multi-sport athletes.
I have seen an increasing number of patients specializing at a young age with a concurrent rise in injuries and burn-out. Yet, some would argue that this is what must be done to obtain the elusive athletic scholarship. But does this really translate?
Take the following statistics for example from the NCAA: Only 5.6 percent of all high school baseball players and 2.9 percent of all high school basketball players will go on to play collegiately. Yet, there are tens of thousands of high school athletes who sacrifice the benefits of playing multiple sports. Is this meant to detract teens from trying to achieve their goals? Not at all. But it places athletes at a high risk for burn-out later in life. This can prevent them from maintaining healthy habits into adulthood and steering clear of problems such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
In addition, specialization shields athletes from the benefits of playing multiple sports. These benefits include becoming skilled in utilizing different muscle groups. Another benefit in multi-sports is providing “active” rest for a body that may become over-worked from a singular activity.
In my eyes, what prepares an adolescent for a healthy lifestyle into adulthood (and translates into athletic performance!) is being an all-around athlete; rather than being an athlete who excels in a certain skill set.
As a former collegiate track athlete, I liken it to the decathlon. Would you train for the decathlon by throwing a javelin 10,000 times a day? No. You would balance your training with throwing, running, jumping, and endurance work. It is no wonder that the decathlon gold medalist is given the title as “The World’s Greatest Athlete.” This is the model we should be utilizing. This model is encouraging all-around development rather than one-sided specialization. As a result, its great for both short-term injury prevention and long-term healthy lifestyles.
Dr. Nirav K. Pandya is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon specializing in pediatric sports injuries at the Children’s Hospital in Oakland. He sees patients and operates in Oakland and their Walnut Creek facility.