Should Kids Specialize in Sports? The AAP Says No

Last month the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness issued a clinical report reviewing all that is known about how specializing in one sport affects the mental and physical wellbeing of children. The report is primarily intended for health care providers to better understand the issue, recognize problems and advise parents and children. The report is long, but you may think the findings interesting.

Here is the summary of recommendations you may find applicable. I’ve simplified but you can read the whole report here.

Specializing in one sport early is bad. Deliberate play (non-organized sports where kids just go and be kids) is best at an early age.

Kids who play only one sport, hard core, are missing out … on social experiences, on trying other sports at which they may excel, etc.

Playing multiple sports allows kids to explore, use different muscles and bones and benefit most from the life skills which can be learned on a field or court.

Overuse injuries are much more common in kids who play one sport.

Playing multiple sports reduces the risk of burnout. Symptoms of burnout include depression, fatigue and irritability.

If the goal is the Olympics, successful adult athletes are much more likely to have played multiple sports. 90% of NFL first round draft picks played other sports in high school. Most of the Women’s World Cup Soccer team played multiple sports.

Speaking of goals, they should be those of the kids, not of the parents or coaches. It is crucial to manage expectations and make sure goals are realistic. Here are the facts. Only 1% of high school athletes will get any kind of college scholarship, and then it is usually partial. Only 0.03 of high school athletes will play sports professionally. In other words, crush their dreams early and often.

Further, the AAP is recommending at least 3 months off, in 1 month intervals, from a single sport, to allow for psychological and physical recovery. At least 2 days off from any particular sport per week will decrease risk of injury.

Bottom line: Signing up for every lacrosse clinic at the age of 6 will not guarantee they get a full ride to Duke, and in actuality will probably limit their ability to even play competitively in high school. As in life, balance in sports is a good thing. We all kind of know this, but it is nice to have some evidence behind the common sense.

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Author: Karen Latimer

Dr. Latimer is a Family Physician and Wellness & Parenting Coach. She works with parents who want to feel more confident when helping their children and coaches young adults to help them better navigate college life and transitions. Contact her at to learn more. She is the author of two Audible Originals, Take Back the House -- Raising Happy Parents and Worry Less, Parent Better. She is also the co-founder of the app that makes your life easier and puts social in a healthier place -- List'm.


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