Q: My 10-year-old really enjoys hockey and would like to play more. I’ve heard that if we don’t play hockey year-round my child will be behind others their age. What are some of the factors to consider moving forward?
First, it is great that they enjoy the game of ice hockey and they should continue to play in an environment that fosters a fun, competitive environment that keeps them wanting to come back to the ice rink. Playing youth sports is one of the best and most rewarding activities for young boys and girls to be involved in. For the child, they see fun and friendship. In addition, youth sports foster determination, teamwork and good sportsmanship while laying the groundwork for a healthy lifestyle. There is lack of scientific evidence to support the idea that specializing at an early age leads to long term success in that sport.
As kids continue to progress in sports it is important that their overall health and safety remain a top priority. Specializing in sports too early can have detrimental effects both physically and mentally for young athletes. These negative effects can be related to stacked schedules, rigorous training and limited recovery.
Youth sports specialization can be characterized by:
Overuse injuries and burnout are two of the main negative effects that early sports specialization can lead to. Overuse injuries account for approximately 50% of sports-related injuries in youth sports. (1,3)
Highly specialized youth athletes are nearly two times more likely to sustain an overuse injury than their peers, who play multiple sports. (1)
Burnout can affect an athlete both on and off the ice and may lead to dropping out of sports altogether. Each year almost 35% of youth athletes quit sports and by the time they reach the age of 15, nearly 70-80% have stopped playing sports completely. (4)
The National Athletic Trainers’ Association supports the following recommendations as they relate to health, safety and well-being of adolescent and young athletes:
Learn more at: www.atyourownrisk.org/youth-sports
Kevin Margarucci, who has more than 20 years of experience as a certified athletic trainer, has been involved in hockey in varying capacities (player, coach, certified athletic trainer) for more than 35 years.
1. Sport Specialization and Risk of Overuse Injuries: A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis. David R. Bell, Eric G. Post, Kevin Biese, Curtis Bay, Tamara Valovich McLeod. Pediatrics Sep 2018, 142. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/142/3/e20180657
2. Myer, G. D., Jayanthi, N., Difiori, J. P., Faigenbaum, A. D., Kiefer, A. W., Logerstedt, D., & Micheli, L. J. (2015). Sport Specialization, Part I: Does Early Sports Specialization Increase Negative Outcomes and Reduce the Opportunity for Success in Young Athletes? Sports Health, 7(5), 437 442. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738115598747
3. Tamara C. Valovich McLeod, Laura C. Decoster, Keith J. Loud, Lyle J. Micheli, J. Terry Parker, Michelle A. Sandrey, and Christopher White (2011) National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Prevention of Pediatric Overuse Injuries. Journal of Athletic Training: Mar/Apr 2011, Vol. 46, No. 2, pp. 206-220. https://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-46.2.206
4. Merkel DL. Youth sport: positive and negative impact on young athletes. Open Access J Sports Med. 2013;4:151–160. Published 2013 May 31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3871410/
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