Want to raise an all-star? let them play the field

Popular Science - - CHARTED -

among teens; in New York, the por­tion of the pro­ce­dures done on mi­nors more than dou­bled be­tween 2003 and 2013. Some ex­perts blame early base­ball spe­cial­iza­tion, which leaves youths prac­tic­ing year-round. (Lit­tle League does have pitch-count re­stric­tions, but they’re dif­fi­cult to en­force.) The risks are men­tal as well: Too much time de­voted to one en­deavor can lead to anx­i­ety and fa­tigue, and might drive par­tic­i­pants to burn out and quit.

In fact, there’s ev­i­dence that spread­ing time around might leave play­ers bet­ter poised to com­pete with the elites. Most fe­male D1 college ath­letes played mul­ti­ple sports in high school, and one study found that ado­les­cent boys with that same va­ri­ety have bet­ter mo­tor skills than those with a nar­row fo­cus. Con­sider this: The low, agile stance key for de­fend­ing in bas­ket­ball might also make some­one more mo­bile on the tennis court. Many coaches en­cour­age even adult ath­letes to cross-train, mix­ing up their ex­er­cise pro­grams with var­ied types of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties.

Of course, any jock with dreams of the pros will even­tu­ally have to set­tle on an ex­per­tise. But the right time to do so is un­clear—and likely varies be­tween pas­times and ath­letes. When­ever par­ents and coaches de­cide it’s time for a young­ster to get se­ri­ous about a sin­gle dis­ci­pline, Jayan­thi says, the key is to watch for signs of injury, and man­age train­ing hours to limit fa­tigue. “Sports are so im­por­tant for kids, no mat­ter what,” he says. “It’s just be­ing mind­ful of ways to re­duce some of the risk.”

CHIL­DREN WHO PLAY ONE PAS­TIME YEAR-ROUND ARE ABOUT 40 PER­CENT MORE LIKELY TO GET HURT THAN THOSE WHO PLAY MORE THAN ONE.

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