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Penn State College of Medicine: Rushing children to specialize in one sport may not be the best path to success

DERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- Could specializing in one sport at a young age be beneficial? A new study completed by Penn State College of Medicine researchers says otherwise.

They asked the question, "does focusing on one sport exclusively lead to greater success in that sport?" The study found not only physical risks, but mental risks too.

Whether the motive is to work toward a scholarship or just to simply be the best, the Hershey Bears team physician Dr. Matthew Silvis said it's easy for parents to get caught up in pushing their kids to play one sport. Speaking not just as a medical expert, but as a parent too.

"There's a lot of encouragement of keeping up with the Smiths' and the Joneses' in sports participation and I think that that actually builds into this conversation as well," Silvis said.

The conversation being early "specialization." It's when a child stops participating in a variety of sports to focus on one sport year-round. He said it's a trend happening nationally. In the case of this study, kids under the age of 12.

"One is that can lead to burn out when you only do one sport exclusively year round, over-use injuries," Silvis said. You're only working certain muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, whenever you focus on one sport. Whenever you have more diverse sports you're working other parts of your body."

The study focused on hockey players. Turns out most of them didn't start specializing in hockey until after the age of 14.

"A lot of professional athletes have come out and said, 'I learned to head the soccer ball better because I learned to play basket ball and not just soccer,' those kind of comments from professional athletes are really helpful in today's world to help alleviate the concern that you have to specialize in just that one sport," Silvis said.

Even if your child only wants to play one sport, Dr. Silvis recommends you encourage them to do more than one anyway.

"It's like your child only wants to eat one vegetable, we should probably try to have them sample other vegetables," Silvis said. "I think that's important as parents to do that."

Silvis recommends you play more than one sport even after the age of 12 if it's feasible.

If a child is really adamant about playing one sport year round, he recommends they take one season off to allow them to recover and prevent the risk of a repetitive injury.