Undoubtedly, everyone has heard of the 10,000 rule that stipulates that in order to reach expert status 10 years or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice are required. This study was initially looking at elite musicians and their non-elite counterparts and was then transferred to other fields, including athletics. This has, in part, contributed to the growth of single sport athletes and the clubs, coaches, centers and equipment suppliers that support that sport. Unfortunately, early specialization does not guarantee long term athletic success, and may potentially limit it.
Whenever a new level of sport is undertaken, fewer athletes participate. The large number of youth athletes fizzles in high school, college and beyond. For those that do move on they tend to play more than one sport in high school with extra work put in to their main sport. They still require the deliberate practice required to excel, but not at the large commitment that has been suggested. There is also concern that early sport specialization can lead to injury, burnout and other negative consequences, although sufficient data is still required to fully understand the relationship.
The information that we do have can help us to have honest conversations with athletes, coaches and parents when they ask us our opinion on playing one sport or multiple sports. One study looked at athletes that were in a single sport vs. multiple sports and the injuries in the two groups. Those athletes that played a single sport and spent more hours per week in that sport had greater risks for overuse injury. This total volume of repetitive activity is related to injury risk across many sports.
Female athletes that play a single sport have increased incidence of anterior knee pain than those that play multiple sports. A lot of research has gone into youth baseball players and elbow injuries and we know that the risk factors for developing elbow pain are throwing too many pitches in a day, throwing curve balls at a young age and throwing more months out of the year. This understanding has helped lead to recommendations regarding pitch counts in youth baseball, although they may not be strictly adhered to. Gymnasts are more likely to have overuse wrist and lumbar injuries while specialized hockey and soccer players suffer from hip pain and the development of impingement.
These injuries are predictable based on the sport. The understanding of when those injuries occur in relation to how often an athlete plays the sport is unknown. Theoretically, participating in many sports or a neuromuscular training program can limit the repetitive motion of an individual sport and improve movement quality that can lead to fewer injuries. The constant stress, physical and psychological, of intense sport training can lead some athletes to overtrain, or even burn out from their sport. In order to adapt physiologically, the body needs time to adjust to a new stimulus. Without adequate recovery periods built in, athletes may experience these, and other, negative outcomes of participation.
Right now, the best we can do is to discuss the risk of injury based on the sport and the importance of adaptation and volume control. Sports are meant to be fun and youth athletes should be exposed to many sports for enjoyment. Waiting longer to specialize may help delay an overuse injury, but nothing is a guarantee for playing at the next level. The longer sports are fun the more likely they will be to remain active throughout their life, and that is the real victory.
Brenner, J. (2007). Overuse injuries, overtraining and burnout in child and adolescent athletes. Pediatrics 119(6). http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/6/1242.short
Cheatham, S. and Little, B. (2015). Early sports specialization: helpful or harmful? Orthopedics 38(12). http://www.healio.com/orthopedics/journals/ortho/2015-12-38-12/%7B460ea434-603f-4c5b-9903-26940ea2349b%7D/early-sports-specialization-helpful-or-harmful
Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness. (2000). Intensive training and sport specialization in young athletes. Pediatrics 106(1). http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/106/1/154?trendmd-shared=0&utm_source=TrendMD&utm_medium=TrendMD&utm_campaign=Pediatrics_TrendMD_0
DiFiori, J, et. al. (2014). Overuse injuries and burnout in youth sport: A position statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine 24(1): 3-20. https://www.amssm.org/Content/pdf%20files/2014_OverUse_Injuries-Burnout.pdf
Fabricant, P., et. al. (2016). Youth sport specialization and musculoskeletal injury: A systematic review of the literature. The Physician and SportsMedicine 44(3); 257-262. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27121730
Hall, R., et. al. (2015). Sport specialization’s association with an increased risk of developing anterior knee pain in adolescent female athletes. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation 24(1). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24622506
Jayanthi, N., et. al. (2013). Sports specialization in young athletes: evidence based recommendations. SportsHealth 5(3). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24427397
LaPrade, R., et. al. (2016). AOSSM early sport specialization consensus statement. Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine 4(4). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27169132
McLeod, T., et. al. (2011). National Athletic Trainer’s Association position statement: prevention of pediatric overuse injuries. Journal of Athletic Training 46(2) http://www.nata.org/sites/default/files/Pediatric-Overuse-Injuries.pdf
As a strength and performance coach, nothing pleases me more than when people are able to compete at the level they want to compete at. Whether that is returning to a high school sport post injury, training to make the College team or posting your personal best in a 5K fitness run or Triathlon; the drive to excel is what separates those that exercise from those that train.
For those of you that want to improve in endurance based events, I have some good news, recent research has demonstrated performance gains by modifying some training. Our first article discusses the importance of strength training on running economy and performance indicators. For those of you that have shied away from strength training as an endurance athlete for fear of becoming “too bulky” or slowing down or time commitments, the time may come to rethink how you structure your training. When incorporated, strength training does not lead to increase muscle mass (by itself), but does improve power, neuromuscular control, strength and running economy. You also don’t have to be afraid of lifting heavy; heavy strength training maximally improves those performance indicators. So, the next time you are at the gym, add some squats, lunges, hamstring work and plyometrics to your program; your running times will thank you.
Speaking of running, those looking to improve their sprint triathlon performance can tweak their running to achieve faster times. Triathletes in this article didn’t change their swimming or their cycling routines, but the group that undertook High Intensity Interval Training for their running routine improved their performance over those that maintained their running program. HIIT is similar to strength in that it improves work economy, power output and economy. These sprint type workouts with short recoveries stimulate exercise adaptation of tolerance to high intensity exertion. This translates into improved ability to work at higher training thresholds, resistance to fatigue and improved power output that can manifest in faster competition times.
A new year is a time to set goals, evaluate performance and try to become better. As an endurance athlete interested in posting faster times, this is the perfect opportunity to adjust your training to reach new heights. The addition of strength training and sprint based running has the potential to help you have your best race season yet.
Beattie, C., et al. (2017). The effect of strength training on performance indicators in distance runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 31(1): 9-23. http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2017/01000/The_Effect_of_Strength_Training_on_Performance.2.aspx
García-Pinillos, F., et. al. (2017). A high intensity interval training based running plan improves athletic performance by improving muscular power. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 31(1): 146-153.http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2017/01000/A_High_Intensity_Interval_Training__HIIT__Based.17.aspx
No matter what level of athletics you’re involved in, you probably appreciate it when you are recognized as a fan. If you happen to work in athletics, it is important that you create rapport with your fans and establish a relationship. It is also important to remember that you can create fun game time experiences and engage with your fans even if you’re on a limited budget. Thanks to social media and some outside the box thinking, there are many ways to grow and involve your fan base to create excitement surrounding your team.
The most obvious place to start is with social media, it’s free and relatively easy to use. But, instead of just relying on posts and tracking ‘likes’ you can take things a step further. You can provide videos of practice sessions, skills day, training and school spirit events. Instead of waiting for game day to make a post, you can be more proactive and provide information that builds up to each game. You can also have someone do some live updates for the fans that are interested in following the scores and the action, but aren’t able to attend. If you have sponsors, this is another great way to offer sponsors some exposure to your fan base. The more fans you have that follow your social media, the greater the potential reach for your sponsors. This greater reach and involvement with fans can also have positive financial rewards in the forms of either more sponsors, or greater sponsor contributions.
The classic in game fan experiences are still fun; theme nights, give aways, competitions. Providing fans with a fun, high energy atmosphere will keep them coming back to your events. These don’t have to be large, either. Costume days are fun ways for students to get involved with their classmates on the team. Give aways during halftime, or at the entrance can be included in the game. Things like the towels or shirts that create uniformity can help create a visual impact of the fans (these also make great photos for your social media posts). Another added opportunity is that you might be able to find a sponsor willing to cover the cost of the item for some ad space like a logo. You still get to create the visual impact and your sponsor gets acknowledged, too, a win-win.
Before, during and after games is a great time to get to know your fans and develop a personal relationship with them. Athletic Directors can sit in different places during games and talk with fans in attendance. Many fans enjoy the opportunity to have a conversation with the AD, although, this is an opportunity to meet one another, not air grievances. An AD might find some interesting fan stories that can be turned in to more promotional material: long standing fans can share their favorite memories of the teams, parents and grandparents, students can be highlighted on fan pages, etc. Only by making the effort to meet and interact with the fans can stories be heard and shared and opportunities taken advantage of.
At different levels of play, there is higher competition for fans and sponsors, but even smaller programs and teams can take advantage of developing a fan base. Fans help create atmosphere for the athletes during the game and excitement before and afterwards. Engaging them as important parts of the team can help increase the number of fans, potentially bring in new sponsors or ticket/concessions sales and offer ways to create a greater visual impact, both at the game and online.
Taylor, S. (2016). Seven ways to engage fans and drive ticket sales. Athletic Business November/December 2016. http://www.athleticbusiness.com/marketing/seven-ways-to-engage-fans-and-drive-ticket-sales.html
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*This site is for educational purposes only, it is not meant to diagnose, treat or replace medical advice. Before starting an exercise program always make sure that you are healthy and able to do so safely.*