A week ago, ESPN.com published a two-part story about youth basketball.
Inspiring, it was not. Part one was entitled, “’These kids are ticking time bombs’: the threat of youth basketball.” Part two was tagged, “Under the knife: exposing America’s youth basketball crisis.”
Sounding the alarm were NBA executives and medics who are finding most new pros of late are arriving damaged goods as the result of playing too many games, too often, too soon.
The results have become all too predictable, with overuse injuries such as stress fractures, muscle strains and torn tendons and fatigue-related injuries such as torn ACLs and sprained ankles.
Pity the NBA.
Pity more the young basketball players sacrificing their bodies only never to attain their goals.
However, it is not just juvenile jump shooters paying the price for overuse. Too much of one thing is good for nothing, regardless of sport.
In this space 17 months ago, I reported on two studies and one literature review, published recently in medical journals, that demonstrated how counterproductive sports specialization at an early age really is.
The one-sport wonders are prone to burning out and walking — or limping — away from sports altogether. Meanwhile, those who hang on are twice as likely to suffer a leg injury than those who play multiple sports.
At some point, though, most one-sport careers come to an end with graduation from high school, and at least those who have dodged permanent injury are able to get on with their lives, none the worse for wear.
A different point of view comes from a study out of the United States Military Academy (West Point) and presented at the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s annual meeting in Las Vegas last month.
Kenneth Cameron is the Director of Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Research at Keller Army Hospital at West Point and his team looked at first-year cadets who entered West Point in the fall of 2017. In all, 892 cadets participated and 165 were determined to have specialized in one sport for more than eight years. Those among that sub-group of 165 were 51 percent more likely to suffer a lower body injury during that first year at West Point than those who had not specialized.
For female cadets who specialized in one sport, the injury rate was 200 percent higher.
According to the researchers, these numbers are concerning because such injuries could affect military readiness.
Interviewed in Las Vegas, Cameron said the data had not changed admission practices at West Point — yet. He acknowledged there was more work to be done.
He said the study was motivated by the thought that sports specialization limits one’s habitual movement patterns, making injury more likely when the cadet was forced into an unfamiliar movement pattern. However, the study included an evaluation of movement quality and those who displayed the least movement versatility ended up only 10 percent more likely to be injured.
Whether or not the susceptibility to injury continues further into a cadet’s career has yet to be determined. Cameron said his team’s future plans include focusing on specific injures such as stress fractures and ankle sprains.
Regardless, this study is another that demonstrates just how disadvantageous sports specialization is. What does Cameron say to parents who still believe otherwise?
“I think more and more data like this, hopefully, is going to be helpful,” he replied. “You’re not really helping kids out by having them do so much in one area, by not giving them recovery time. Those are the things that they need to know. They are putting a substantial investment into their children if they are having them play club sports. They’re not really protecting that investment if they’re not allowing their kids to rest or if they’re having them play multiple leagues at the same time.”