Playing multiple sports creates better, healthier kids, says physical therapist

  • Wednesday, March 28, 2018 9:59am
  • Sports

Special to the Reporter

In an era of specialization in sports involving athletes of all ages, physical therapist and DPT, Anna Friedman, joins most medical experts in agreeing that young athletes generally remain mentally and physically healthier, achieve greater success, and learn to enjoy a lifetime of physical fitness when they opt to play multiple sports.

Friedman adds that, in contrast, allowing youths to specialize in a sport year-round can lead to burnout, a greater risk of experiencing overuse injuries, and less long-term success.

“Encouraging our kids to specialize in a single sport throughout the year isn’t putting them on the right path toward success without risking injury and burnout,” said Friedman, physical therapist of RET Physical Therapy Group, which has 26 locations in the greater Seattle area, including Bellevue, Bothell, Issaquah, Kirkland, Mercer Island and Redmond. “While this path has worked out for some, these stories are very rare and overlook the fact that the risks of specialization far outweigh the rewards, especially when it comes to youth athletes.”

It’s been estimated that up to 60 million U.S. youths ages 6 to 18 years participate in some form of athletics. More than 5 million of these athletes experience an injury each year. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, at least 50 percent of athletic injuries are related to overuse, the types of injuries for which one-sport athletes are particularly prone.

“An overuse injury happens when a bone, muscle or tendon has been put through repetitive stress without being given a sufficient amount of time to heal or repair, leading to microtraumatic damage,” said Friedman. “Think sore pitching arms or pain in a swimmer’s shoulder that doesn’t go away, possibly keeping the athlete from competing.”

The same repetitive motions year-round can, in other words, lead to such overuse injuries as strains, sprains, stress fractures, and even tears in muscles, tendons and ligaments. Playing multiple sports, in contrast, allows young athletes to challenge their bodies in different ways, developing new sets of physical traits and skills and that offer more universal performance benefits.

To help young athletes reduce the risk of developing overuse injuries and overall burnout, Friedman offers the following advice to parents and coaches:

Encourage diversity: Especially at an early age, encourage kids to try out and play different sports throughout the year. Some of the most successful athletes (up to 97 percent of the pros) believe being a multisport athlete was beneficial to their long-term success.

Seek rest: Young athletes should take at least one to two days off from practice and/or structured sports participation each week. Some experts suggest limiting weekly practice to the age (in hours) of the athlete. Long-term, athletes should take two to three months off a particular sport each year to help refresh the body and the mind.

Specialize later: Wait until at least high school age – better yet, around the ages of 16 or 17 – before considering specializing in any individual sport. At this point, the body is more prepared for such rigors.

Watch for signs: If a young athlete complains of nonspecific problems with muscles and/or joints, physical fatigue, or grows concerned about poor performance, visit a health professional such as a physical therapist, who can fully evaluate the issue and offer treatment (if needed) for any potential injuries or deficiencies.

More in Sports

Mercer Island resident Desiree Berry, pictured with her children Beau, 5, and Bear, 3, clinched a berth at the United States Olympic trials after clocking a time of 2:39.17 at the Cal International Marathon on Dec. 2 in Sacramento, California. Shaun Scott, staff photo
Berry takes top spot at Cal International Marathon

Mercer Island resident clinches a spot at the USA Olympic trials.

Mercer Island Lacrosse Association to host a clinic in February

A free lacrosse clinic and giveaway will take place from noon to… Continue reading

The Mercer Island Islanders boys swim team earned first place at the Kentridge Invitational on Jan. 12. Islanders athletes capturing first place in their respective events consisted of Nate Robinson (50 free), Collin Ralston (200 IM) and James Richardson (100 back). Photo courtesy of Carol Gullstad
Islanders swim team earns first place at Kentridge Invitational

The Mercer Island Islanders boys swim team earned first place at the… Continue reading

Mercer Island Islanders senior Nate Robinson is determined to lead his team to a Class 3A state title this February. Shaun Scott, staff photo
Robinson is the definition of a sprinter in the pool

Mercer Island senior dominates the 50 free and 100 free.

Mercer Island wrestler Connor Pettigrew (pictured) earned second place in his weight class at the Barry Knott Classic wrestling tournament on Dec. 15 at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle. Photo courtesy of Billy Pruchno
Islanders grapplers compete at Barry Knott Classic

The Mercer Island Islanders wrestling team earned fourth place overall at the… Continue reading

Mercer Island Islanders junior Adam Parker, left, looks for a teammate to pass to against the Juanita Rebels. Parker finished with a team-high 20 points against the Juanita Rebels on Dec. 11. The Islanders defeated the Rebels 56-49. Photo courtesy of Rick Edelman/Rick Edelman Photography
Islanders display grittiness in victory against the Rebels

Mercer Island hits clutch shots down the stretch against Juanita.

The Mercer Island Flames U-11 girls soccer team won the Washington Youth Soccer Regional Recreational Cup on Dec. 2. The Flames finished the 2018 season with an undefeated record of 16-0. Members of the Flame roster included Sophia Kinkead, Sabina Leveque, Scout Bates, Quincey Eskridge, Ciela Turner, Ashlyn Belden, Avery Oliver, Mia Sung, Chloe Mar, Bryanna Denmarsh, Amelie Swift, Gianna Tubach, Elianna Weiss and Cate Thomas. The team was coached by David Tubach, Adam Kinkead and Scott Weiss. Photo courtesy of David Tubach
Flame earn a coveted title on the soccer pitch

Local soccer team finishes the 2018 season with a 16-0 overall record.

Mercer Island Islanders senior swimmer James Richardson (pictured) captured first place in the 100 fly and 100 back at the Class 3A state swim and dive meet during his junior season. Richardson wants to lead his team to a Class 3A state championship in February of 2019 at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way. Photo courtesy of Scott Richardson
Richardson is a rising star in the pool

Mercer Island senior is striving to lead his team to a state title.

Perfection in dual meets was attained during the 2017 season for the Islanders boys swim team in KingCo contests in the pool.
                                The Islanders picked up where they left off last season, cruising to a 105-55 win in the season opener against the Bellevue Wolverines on Nov. 29. The Islanders swim program has now won eight consecutive KingCo dual swim meets since the 2017-18 season. Mercer Island has a wealth of experience returning to the varsity roster during the 2018-19 season. Alex Edwards, Daniel Gao, Jake Headrick, Evan Hill, Gabriel Neale, John Novak, Collin Rallston, James Richardson, Killian Riley, Nate Robinson, Ethan Schwartz and Kieran Watson were all on the varsity roster last season and return this year. Islanders athletes capturing first place against Bellevue in their respective events consisted of Justin Robinson (500 free, 50 free, 400 free relay, 200 medley relay), Schwartz (100 free, 400 free relay, 200 medley relay, 100 back), Rallston (200 medley relay, 200 free relay, 200 IM), Riley (200 free relay, 400 free relay), Carter Whipple (200 medley relay, 200 free relay), Connor Hanson (200 free relay) and John Novak (400 free relay). Photo courtesy of Scott Richardson
Islanders conquer rival in the pool

Mercer Island swim team defeats Bellevue in season opener.

Mercer Island Islanders seniors Stew Vassau, left, and Donnie Howard, right, signed their letters of committment on Nov. 19 to continue their lacrosse careers at the collegiate level. Vassau will play lacrosse for the University of Utah and Howard will continue his lacrosse career at Boston University. Mercer Island boys lacrosse head coach Ian O’Hearn, center, is pictured with his two collegiate bound players. Photo courtesy of Don Howard
Howard, Vassau sign on the dotted line

Mercer Island Islanders seniors Stew Vassau, left, and Donnie Howard, right, signed… Continue reading

Mercer Island Islanders senior guard/co-captain Will Lee (pictured) said the goal for his squad this season is to win the 2A/3A KingCo Division and clinch a berth in the Class 3A state tournament in March of 2019 at the Tacoma Dome. Photo courtesy of Don Borin/Stop Action Photography
Islanders are confident on the hardwood

Mercer Island boys basketball team is looking to take the next step.

Mercer Island Islanders senior girls basketball player Angelina Barokas (pictured) dove for a loose ball against Bellevue in a game during the 2017-18 season. Barokas, who was a member of the Class 3A state championship squad two years ago as a sophomore, is determined to lead her team back to the Class 3A state tournament this March. Photo courtesy of Don Borin/Stop Action Photography
Mercer Island girls hoops team has high expectations

Dennis Black is in first season leading the Islanders program.