Sports in the tiger-parenting era
It doesn’t surprise me that focusing on achievement in a single sport at a young age substantially raises the risk of overuse injuries and can lead to other physical and developmental issues.
But experts quoted in our current feature (See “Early athletic specialization: Misconceptions and hazards,” page 15) brought up some less intuitive points about the increasingly common practice of intense concentration on a single sport at a young age.
Many children who specialize are trading the slim hope of elite achievement—and often, parents are the driving force behind these hopes—for the benefits and pleasures of the noncompetitive play that used to characterize childhood. Not only did such varied play promote the fundamental mastery of many motor skills, playing different sports allowed children to find their athletic niche naturally, rather than be routed onto a narrow path.
Greg Myer, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics and director of research and the Human Performance Laboratory in the Division of Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio, said his biggest concern about early specialization is that it probably means many kids aren’t playing the sport for which they’re best suited.
Lower extremity practitioners can help their young patients by schooling parents on the facts, both obvious and subtle, starting with the data showing specialization can expose children to significant risks for injury now and in the future, and to issues ranging from emotional burnout to eating disorders.
And, in an era of tiger moms and dads, reminding parents, as does a longtime coach and athletic director in our feature, that despite the elusive allure of college scholarships and elite-athlete status, fun and a love of the game are perhaps better—and certainly less risky—reasons to play.
By Emily Delzell, Senior Editor
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