PhotoIf you're an adult of a certain age, you probably remember spending much of your time outside as a kid. Whether it was playing with the other kids in the neighborhood, running around your block or being involved in a bunch of different sports, you probably spent very little time indoors.

But kids are different today. Video games have become a major source of entertainment, a lot of parents don't let their kids outside unsupervised anymore and -- when it comes to sports -- a lot of kids play just one.

Having a child play just one sport all year around is sort of the new trend these days. If you look at leagues like the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), you'll likely see young athletes just aren't playing for fun anymore, they're actually training.

A lot of parents who have athletic kids put them in just one sport because they think it will give them an advantage. The common belief is, while the other children move on to other sports, one-sport athletes will still be in training mode and getting better.

The wrong approach?

But that could be the wrong approach, says Dr. Timothy Hewett of Ohio State University's sports medicine division. He says kids doing the same athletic moves year after year, increases their chance of becoming injured.

"You could call it the Tiger Woods syndrome," said Hewett. "Young athletes feel like they have to play a single sport and they have to play it year-round."

Another potential problem with kids playing one sport is they have a greater chance of gaining weight after an injury, and that weight-gain can stick around for quite some time.

"Even when we follow them over multiple years, they tend to retain the weight gain," said Hewett.

Wear and tear

PhotoAfter studying over 500 athletes for a 10-year span, Hewett and his research team found that single-sport athletes had a 50% higher chance of getting a knee injury.

When a child plays and practices just one sport over a long period of time, the process of wearing-and-tearing begins very early and playing different sports gives certain body parts a break.

Dr. James Dreese, an orthopedic surgeon in Maryland, said it's all of the hours of competition that can potentially harm a child who plays just one sport.

"When athletes that play one sport and one sport alone, there's probably more hours of competition in that one sport than there were competing if they had two or three other sports," he said. "It's the hours of competition that puts them most at risk for having those problems."

Multiple-sport benefits

John Donahue, a track coach in Souderton, Pa., said playing multiple sports isn't only healthy for kids physically; it helps them in other ways, especially if a child is a star in one sport.

"Maybe if you're the star in football, you being the second-string guard [in basketball] is good for you instead of just being in the weight room four days a week in the winter," said Donahue in a published interview.  "I would say it's more fun, better for your overall development and better for your school."

In a joint study conducted by Loyola University Medical Center and Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, researchers examined the health data of 1206 athletes between the ages of 8 and 18. Out of those athletes, there were 859 injuries reported and they were all connected to playing one sport over and over.

The researchers said young athletes shouldn't play or practice any more hours than their age. And that's every week.

"We should be cautious about intense specialization in one sport before and during adolescence," said Dr. Neeru Jayanthi of Loyola University.

Loss of interest

PhotoThere's another risk of kids playing just one sport. They can become bored and want to give it up, which is the opposite of what many parents want.  

Aaron Locks, owner of the fitness center University of Sports, said if a child only plays one sport it can take away the fun. And having fun is the main reason a child should be playing sports at a young age.

"It's really unfortunate when a 10-year old is told to pick just one sport," he said. "Kids should use sports to have fun. They need to play different sports and enjoy them all as much as they can."

But keeping kids engaged should just be one of your goals when you put them in different athletic activities, says Hewett. Allowing them to play multiple sports gives them balance.

"A diversity of activity is going to promote balance within your neuromuscular system," said Hewett. "You're going to be able to be proficient and excel at multiple tasks."


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