By Bob Gardner
Executive Director of the National Federation of State High School Associations
One of the responsibilities that parents take most seriously is protecting their children from injury, whether it is buckling seat belts in a car or wearing a helmet while riding a bike. And when their kids become teenagers and want to participate in sports or other activities, parents do everything they can to keep their sons and daughters from getting hurt.
But not all injuries are caused by a twist, fall, collision or accident. Many are caused when young athletes repeat the same athletic activity so often that muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones don’t have time to recover—especially among middle school and high school students. These injuries can end promising careers, cost families tens of thousands of dollars, squash dreams and literally change lives.
Examples include elbow and arm injuries to teenagers who play baseball or softball all year long, shoulder injuries to year-round swimmers, wrist and elbow injuries to gymnasts, and stress fractures to soccer players.
The culprit, most often, is what’s commonly known as “sport specialization,” the process of playing the same sport all year long with the goal of either gaining a competitive edge or earning a college scholarship. It involves intense, year-round training in a single sport.
Research shows that sports specialization is putting teenage athletes at risk. According to a study commissioned by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin, high school athletes who specialize in a single sport are 70 percent more likely to suffer an injury during their playing season than those who play multiple sports.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons says much the same. It reports that “overuse injuries” (injuries caused when an athletic activity is repeated so often that parts of the body do not have enough time to heal) are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle school and high school students.
There is a solution. Young athletes should be encouraged to play multiple sports.
When student-athletes cross-train, they work different muscle groups and joints which, in fact, results in better overall conditioning. They also develop a new set of athletic skills like hand-eye coordination, balance, endurance, explosion and agility that are transferable to their primary sport. It’s no coincidence that 30 of the 32 first-round picks in the 2017 National Football League draft played multiple sports in high school.
Parents can play a key role in preventing these overuse injuries by encouraging their kids to play multiple sports rather than pushing them to specialize in one sport. They will have more fun, will be less likely to suffer burnout and will actually become better athletes.
The 5-minute program each week includes feature stories from around the state from the MHSAA’s Second Half or network affiliates, along with "Be The Referee," a 60-second look at the fine art of officiating.
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March 15: Hockey, Gymnastics, LP Boys Swimming & Diving Finals in review
March 8: Individual Wrestling, Competitive Cheer, Bowling Finals in review
March 2: Team Wrestling, Skiing Finals in review
Feb. 22: Battle of the Fans X champion, national honors for Michigan ADs
Feb. 15: High-scoring Liedel family, second-generation standouts at Hartland
Feb. 8: Winter postseason schedule, Fowler/Portland St. Patrick girls hoops rivalry
Feb. 1: Michigan Power Ratings, remembering Jackson's Charles Janke Listen
Jan. 25: Michigan coaches honored nationally, Port Huron Northern basketball
Jan. 18: Midland Dow girls basketball, retiring coaches on all-time wins lists
Jan. 11: Battle of the Fans X "Challenge Round," officiating on the islands
Jan. 4: Onsted boys basketball, Oxford Strong Listen
Dec. 15: Winter championship calendar, KLAA/MIHL Memorial Showcase Listen
Dec. 8: 2021 Bush Award honorees, remembering Tom Rashid
Dec. 1: 11-Player Football Finals review
Nov. 23: Volleyball, LP Girls Swimming & Diving, 8-Player Football Finals review Listen
Nov. 16: Lower Peninsula Cross Country continued, weekend preview
Nov. 9: Lower Peninsula Cross Country, Boys Soccer Finals review
Nov. 2: Title IX at 50 celebration, Fall championship broadcasts
Oct. 27: Upper Peninsula Cross Country Finals review, soccer/volleyball playoff update
Oct. 20: Lower Peninsula Girls Golf & Boys Tennis Finals review
Oct. 13: Middle school/junior high cross country Regionals, football playoff selection
Oct. 6: Upper Peninsula girls tennis champions, football broadcast update
Sept. 29: Girls swimming & diving "Meet of Champions," Schoolcraft's star kicker Listen
Sept. 22: Spartan Invitational "elite" races, John U. Bacon's "Let Them Lead" Listen
Sept. 15: Volleyball powers face off, Tiger Teusink's tennis legacy Fall sports rules changes, Adrian Lenawee Christian inspiration – Listen
Sept. 1: Boys soccer seeding process, Beaver Island athletics –