Physical activity is encouraged and necessary for proper growth in children. But when the activity level becomes more intense and frequent – such as playing a competitive sport year-round – the potential for injury becomes greater in athletes as young as seven.

Below, Dr. Kyle Yost, an associate professor and a sports medicine specialist from the University of Maryland, discusses the importance of rest and multi-sport exposure for kids and active adults.

What is sports specialization? Sports specialization is when a young athlete participates in one sport or is trained in the one sport year-round.

How can it negatively affect young athletes? Sports specialization in youth athletes may lead to physical and mental injuries. It can lead to burnout, cause a decrease in performance, increase the risk of injury, and make kids feel that they no longer want to play or participate in that sport.

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What are the most common injuries you see in the office? Overuse injuries such as ankle sprains, tendonitis of the knee, and rotator cuff pathology of the shoulder which can cause pain, weakness, restricted motion, and a feeling of instability. When a particular part of the body undergoes repetitive stress without sufficient time to recover, the chances of injury increase.

What advice do you have for athletes and their parents regarding injury prevention? Parents should encourage their active children to play multiple sports year-round. At maximum, one organized sport per season will work on all muscle groups and continue to develop the strength of their whole body. Young athletes should avoid engaging in organized sports or activities for hours exceeding their age per week.

When choosing an additional sport, how do athletes know which one(s) to play? Sports are meant to be fun! It’s important to try out different kinds of sports and activities. Many enjoy playing with friends, so choosing a sport your friends play is an easy way to get exposure to other sports while staying active and healthy. Participating in various sports helps children’s bodies develop in a balanced way.

Is it ever too late to pick up another sport? Never – your body is meant to move. Playing a sport, whether it is pickleball, golf, basketball, football, or any other sport, gets you active regardless of age. Seniors playing a sport like pickleball experience fewer aches and pains just by moving. Sports are a great way to achieve your fitness goals and promote healthy lifestyle choices for all ages.

Explain how training is different now compared to 10 years ago or more. There has been a rise in injuries among athletes due to the increasing number of players who participate in only one sport throughout the year. However, people have now started adopting a different approach to training, which involves cross-training. This allows individuals to work on different muscle groups instead of focusing on just one.

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What are your top tips for achieving optimal performance? A lot of people do not realize how important sleep is for performance. Getting 8 hours of sleep per night is vital for optimal performance. Also playing multiple sports allows you to work on different aspects of your body to perform better. Most professional athletes played multiple sports growing up which allowed them to be better at their main sport.

Why did you become a sports medicine physician and what do you enjoy most about your work? I have played sports my whole life and enjoy the biomechanics of the body. Working with all levels of competitors – from youth sports teams to collegiate athletes and a grand-parent with knee pain – allows me to care for a diverse variety of patients. Seeing someone who was previously in pain get back to their sport or desired activities is a rewarding aspect.


Assistant Professor of Family & Community Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine

Sports Medicine Specialist, Team Physician for the Maryland Terps & UMBC Retrievers

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