Sometimes it's easy to take advice from healthcare professionals and let it go in one ear and out the other because it contradicts what you see with your own two eyes.
For instance many doctors recommend that young athletes play more than one sport to avoid overuse injuries. But how can this be the case if pro athletes stick to just one sport and they seem to do just fine?
Dr. Alan K. Sokoloff, team chiropractor for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens and University of Maryland Terps, shares that the answer lies in part in how participating in two or more sports can help you enhance the skills required to absolutely master your sport of choice.
Sports specialization and enhanced skills
Playing only one sport "inhibits an athlete's ability to develop other skills learned in other sports," says Dr. Sokoloff, known by his athletic patients simply as Dr. Sok. That's why some of the top players in the nation have engaged in more than one professional sport.
Examples of this include Usain Bolt, who traded in his Olympic medal-winning track shoes and spent time on the soccer pitch. Or Deion Sanders, who starred as a Major League Baseball player and also won two Super Bowls as a Hall of Fame NFL defensive back.
Dr. Sok has also seen the advantages of playing two sports in his own home, when his daughter was a teen and played soccer, but also danced and did gymnastics. This enabled her to "develop upper and lower body muscles in different ways," says Dr. Sok, "paving her way to ultimately play soccer at a very high level." It also helped her learn balance and coordination, which is extremely important for young athletes.
Participating in more than one sport at a young age also gives athletes a greater chance to develop more motor skills adds Dr. Sok. These types of skills are beneficial and cross over to a lot of sports that involve jumping, running, dodging, catching and throwing.
"Watching so many kids get hurt around [my daughter], I am proud every time she takes the field," says Dr. Sokoloff. "And while all accidents and injuries are not preventable, you have to do what you can to prepare your body to be at its best."
What Dr. Sok is referring to is how early specialization in sports can also increase your risk of injury.
Early sports specialization and injury risk
STOP Sports Injuries, a group created by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, shares that overuse injuries are more difficult to diagnose than injuries sustained due to a fall or hit, mainly because they are "subtle and usually occur over time." Unfortunately, they are harder to treat too.
Some of the most common overuse injuries for young athletes include Achilles tendinitis, shin splints, tennis elbow or youth pitching elbow and issues with the shoulder. These can result in the athlete feeling pain, having difficulty sleeping, experiencing increased headaches, suffering the loss of feeling or weakness in the damaged area, and sometimes even noticing a shortness of breath.
Even knowing all of this, it may be hard to picture yourself participating in two sports while also turning your schoolwork in on time, dealing with other family obligations and having time to visit with friends. How do you make it work?
Making two or more sports work
When asked how young athletes can more easily incorporate adding a new sport into their already busy schedule, Dr. Sok shared that what worked for his daughter was participating in sports that took place at different times of the year.
In addition to playing year-round soccer, she also played basketball in the winter and participated in track in the spring. Each of these sports allowed her to work on different skills without overwhelming her with a completely packed schedule.
They also made her a better soccer player. Namely, basketball improved her ability to move laterally and enhanced her eye-hand coordination, and track helped her increase her speed and build her upper body strength.
What about youth athletes who don't want to play more than one sport?
Though playing more than one sport is beneficial, what do you do when there is only one sport you want to play? The answer is simple, says Dr. Sok. Cross train.
Work with a local athletic trainer or hire a qualified personal trainer to learn more about what type of exercises can help you build the muscles your sport does not typically rely on or use. Ask about the movements that are different than the movements you make every day when training for your sport but can benefit you in other ways.
"You need to have some good guidance on how to develop workouts that will help the athlete get better, stronger, and faster using different drills and activities (outside the sport-specific ones) that can better round out the athlete," he says.
Photo Credit: SolStock/iStock
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