July 21, 2014
Another informed and influential voice has joined our frequent refrain that sports specialization is rarely in a student’s best interest.
David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, offered an opinion piece for the New York Times last month that “hyper-specialization . . . is both dangerous and counterproductive.”
Epstein described the results of a three-year study at Loyola University of Chicago that found highly specialized youth had a 36 percent increased risk of suffering a serious overuse injury, including “stress fractures in their backs, arms and legs; damage to elbow ligaments; and cracks in the cartilage in their joints.”
Epstein continued: “Because families with greater financial resources were better able to facilitate the travel and private coaching that specialization requires, socio-economic status turned up as a positive predictor of serious injury.”
“In case health risks alone aren't reason enough for parents to ignore the siren call of specialization,” wrote Epstein, “diversification also provides performance benefits.” He cited “better learning of motor and anticipatory skills – the unconscious ability to read bodies and game situations – to other sports. They take less time to master the sport they ultimately choose.”