Delay the desire to specialize

This blog post is written by Mike McCormick, the assistant athletic director for sports medicine and wellness at Landon, as well as the school’s head athletic trainer. Mr. McCormick says new national guidelines encourage boys to try multiple sports, get rest, and resist the urge to specialize too soon.

All of us know that an incredible amount of time, dedication, and effort are needed to be a successful athlete. But how do you help your son achieve the results he wants without the risk of injury? There is certainly a lot of conflicting advice, personal anecdotes, and website statistics about the right mix of sports, conditioning, and rest young athletes should have.

The issue gets even more complicated when a child wants to specialize in one sport. We know this specialization can be simply for the love of the game, but for others, it is something else entirely: to obtain a college scholarship, to acquiesce to demands from a coach, or to keep up with friends and teammates.

The narrative we often hear is that you have to train year round in one sport to be the best. However, it is not true.

Recently, The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) released its youth sports specialization recommendations. These health-focused recommendations can be a guideline to help prevent youth sports injuries because of over training.

New research shows that the longer you participate in or sample a variety of sports, the less likely you are to sustain an overuse injury. That is because you are incorporating different movement patterns and muscle recruitment. In essence, delay that desire to specialize as long as you can to increase your chances of a healthy sports career.

Tommy Kenary ’20 has been a three-sport athlete throughout his life. He told me, “I would encourage kids to play as many sports as possible because, as a growing person, you can only play certain sports when you are young, and it is important to take advantage of that. Also, the risk of injury goes way down because you build up grit and athleticism. I play arguably the three most strenuous contact sports, hockey, football, and rugby, and it’s worked well for me. I have become a more well-rounded athlete and person.”

Tejon Ford ’20 said, “I chose to play multiple sports because it is a great opportunity to build friendships with different people, and it honestly keeps you in shape all year long. I think playing multiple sports has benefited my athletic career because it has kept me in shape and prepared for each sport that I play. For example, playing football kept me ready and in shape to transition into basketball. To this day, I stand by my decision to play multiple sports, I would not have done it any other way. 

“I encourage other athletes to play multiple sports because the different sports that you play can each have unique opportunities to perfect your craft. And maybe those other sports can give you a skill that you can apply to your main sport that will ultimately make you better.”

Rest is another key component to injury prevention. Athletes should have two days of rest a week within practices and competitions. This approach does not mean that a student should not do any physical activity. For example, playing pickup, lifting weights or adding in a light cardio workout are all recommended to stay active and healthy.

Please take some time to review these recommendations and contact the sports medicine department if you have any questions, or if you would like to discuss this further.