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The Value of Participation in Multiple Sports: An Orthopedic Doctor’s Perspective

orthopedics, pediatric orthopedics, sports medicine

The Value of Participation in Multiple Sports: An Orthopedic Doctor’s Perspective


The likelihood of getting selected to play professional sports if you are a high school athlete is less than 0.05% or about 1 in 2000.  Yet, in the recent 2018 NFL draft, 29 out of the 32 players chosen in the first round played more than one sport in high school.

And this is not a fluke. 60 out of 68 players drafted in rounds 2 and 3were multisport athletes.

So, what can we – as parents, coaches, and doctors who care for hurt and injured athletes – learn from this?  And, not ‘can’ – but ‘must’ we learn?

Participation in multiple sports helps provide physical and psychological balance and physical and psychological resilience – that provide a much greater chance of sustaining both a love of, and participation in, sports and athletics.

The pressures on kids AND parents to ‘specialize’ their kids’ sports activities at a young age are nearly overwhelming these days. Coaches, kids and parents are all to blame.

I am grateful that my orthopedic surgery practiceallows me to care for and advise many young athletes and their families.  Gymnastics, cheer, dance, volleyball, basketball, baseball, football, soccer, cross country, track, skeet and trap shooting, are just some of the activities that I see as the ‘source’ of injury and pain.

The single, most common problem I end up treating is ‘overuse’ – growing bodies and brains need variety and rest to have the greatest chance to reach their full potential. Prescribing rest –real rest, not just ‘taking the weekend off’, or ‘skipping practice this week and playing in the tournament or dance competition next weekend’ – is often the hardest and most time-consuming conversation I have with families and their child when seeing pediatric orthopedic patients. Discussing complex fractures requiring surgeryis often simpler and easier!

Single sport training and participation and near ‘immersion’ can also take a huge toll psychologically. A study published in the journal Sports Healthin 2013 found single sport only athletes had higher rates of psychological stress and quitting the sport.

Participation in multiple sports takes the stress off the joints and muscles that are disproportionately impacted by any one sport. Kids and teens always struggle with issues of identity and self-worth and their ‘place in school and society.’ By participating in multiple sports and activities, the ‘stress’ can be mitigated, making them more resilient.

A brief anecdote: I took care of an excellent soccer player that played year-round for years and got a ‘full ride scholarship’ to play in college. Some time passed, and I saw her again as a patient. She told me something that has always stuck with me – she got to where she ‘welcomed’ getting small injuries since it gave her a viable excuse to not be on the field. She ended up leaving soccer, giving up her scholarship and coming back home for school.

I see kids and teens nearly every day with ankle sprains, knee injuries, broken wrists, shoulder pain, elbow pain and hip pain that can be related back to participation in athletics. And while many are not in single sport, near immersion-type activities, more parents seem to be recognizing that single sport immersion from a young age is not the healthiest.

With a near zero chance that our children will allow us to retire on their multimillion dollar professional salaries, we should understand that athletic participation has so many wonderful and critical things to offer: love of being active, healthy lifestyle, understanding the importance and value of hard work, resilience, winning with class, losing with grace, to name just a few.  And the evidence is clear – the pathway to helping our children achieve this is or even become a pro athlete, like we saw at the NFL draft is to encourage, support, and, yes, perhaps even ‘make’ our children play and compete in multiple sports.

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