Is It Healthier to Play More Than One Sport?

By Tara Hackney for Athletico Physical Therapy

Is It Healthier to Play More Than One Sport?

There is an estimated 30-45 million school aged kids playing organized sports each year.  Lately, there has also been a trend of young athletes training for sports at earlier ages and specializing in one sport with a goal of elite status. But is it healthier to play more than one sport?

What is Sport Specialization?

Sport specialization is defined as year-round training (greater than 8 months per year) for a single main sport, and/or quitting all other sports to focus on that sport. Sports specialization definitions exclude athletes who perform a high volume of intense training in a single sport throughout the year but still compete in other sports simultaneously, as well as athletes who train intensely in a single sport during parts of the year with variable year-round involvement. Although sports specialization is trending, there may be more benefits in playing multiple sports.

The Benefits of Playing Multiple Sports

Data shows that early sport diversification is more likely to lead to valuable physical, cognitive and psycho social skills for the young athlete. In fact, participation in multiple sports in developing years (ages 0-12) may lead to transfer of skills between sports. What’s more, multi-sport participation tends to result in better long term performance and an increase in lifetime enjoyment of physical activity and recreational sports participation. There is also some data indicating unorganized free play may potentially have a protective effect from serious overuse injuries.

It is important to note that the focus should be placed on strength and neuromuscular fitness for development of the entire athlete for competence, confidence, connection and character. The International Olympic Committee suggests waiting until at least puberty before committing to sports specialization. There is limited evidence to suggest that specialization before the age of 12 is necessary for adult elite performance. Furthermore, early diversification does not appear to hinder elite level participation in sports later in life.

Risks of Early Sports Specialization:

  • Burnout
    • Lack of enjoyment
    • High stress or anxiety
    • Mood disturbances
    • Decreased motivation
  • Isolation from peers
  • Lack of development of neuromuscular skills for injury prevention
  • Lack of necessary rest from repetitive use of same body part
  • Increased risk of overuse injury
  • Reduced motor skill development
  • Lost opportunity for fun

Recommendations to avoid burnout and injury:

  • Avoid over-scheduling and excessive time commitment
  • Use a valid and reliable tool to monitor signs of burnout
  • Emphasize skill development and fun
  • Provide opportunity for free, unstructured play
  • Emphasize lifelong physical activity skills
  • Avoid specialization until at least puberty
  • Limit specialized training to less than 16 hours per week or do not exceed hours per week greater than the athlete’s age
  • Good communication between coaches and parents

Staying Healthy and Active

There are many health benefits to playing sports for people of all ages. Regardless of specializing in one sport or playing many sports, it is important that athletes enjoy the time that they spend playing sports. Should an injury occur during sport, click the link below to schedule a complimentary injury screening at your nearest Athletico location.

Schedule a Complimentary Injury Screen

Juvenile Arthritis

Juvenile arthritis is the term used to describe arthritis in children younger than 16 years. Juvenile arthritis is twice as common in girls as boys and the most common type is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is an autoimmune disorder affecting the joints of the knee, hands and feet. It causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and feeling of warmth in the joints. The probable causes of JIA include autoimmune condition, genetic factors, and environmental factors.

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By Dev K. Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

Key Points:

  • A jammed finger occurs with direct impact to the tip of a finger and is generally a mild sprain that resolves in a few days
  • Some finger injuries can be more serious and require urgent evaluation. Examples would include complete tendon tears, joint dislocation, or broken bone.
  • Use The SAFE Method™ (Story, Appearance, Feel, Effort) to rapidly evaluate an injured finger

Catching or getting hit by a ball on the tip of a finger- a football, volleyball, or basketball- is generalyouthbasketball a common way kids and young adults can injure a finger. Fortunately, most finger injuries are reasonably mild and will allow for a quick return to sport. A “jammed finger” is a sprain of the soft tissue structures surrounding a joint. But sometimes a tendon (a structure that links muscle to bone, and cause fingers to move) can be torn, or a joint can be dislocated, or one of the bones broken.

There are some simple steps you can take to rapidly evaluate an injury and make a reasonable determination about whether it’s safe to continue play, or perhaps whether you should seek urgent physician evaluation. At Sideline Sports Doc, we use a simple evaluation for sports injuries that we call The SAFE Method™. The SAFE Method™ is an acronym for Story, Appearance, Feel, and Effort. You use these four points to evaluate pretty much any sports injury. Here’s how you use it for a jammed finger.


Basically this means “how did it get hurt”. Most of the time there will be direct contact to the tip of the finger, that’s pretty obvious. But here you want to be on the lookout for things such as very severe pain, whether you may have heard a pop, or whether you may have felt something crack. Those are all “red flags” indicating that you might have a significant injury. If you have any of those red flags I’d recommend evaluation in an urgent care facility. And if you don’t have any red flags, move on to…


What does it look like? In most typical jammed fingers your finger should look pretty normal in the first several minutes after the injury, this is common with a simple jammed finger. (It may get swollen an hour or two later…) But what if it is rapidly becoming swollen, or if it’s bent at an unusual angle, or if the joint is obviously out of position? If any of those things are what you’re seeing then go to an emergency room for proper treatment. Does it look normal? That’s good, so move on next to Feel.


In “feel” you want to press lightly on the injured joint. Generally this will produce mild soreness with a common jammed finger. But if your light touch feels really painful that’s a red flag indicating the need for urgent evaluation. Significant pain with light touch is often present with broken bones. Are you still doing ok? Then move on to the last evaluation step, Effort.


In this last step you want to make an effort at moving the injured area on your own. For hand injuries this is done by making a fist and opening the fingers out straight. If you’re able to do this fairly easily, that’s good and generally goes along with a jammed finger. But what if you can’t make a fist, can’t open the fingers, or if the joint just won’t move? That could mean a torn tendon, or possibly another significant injury. Get yourself to an urgent care facility.

So if you pass each of the four steps without any red flags or areas of concern youSideLineSportsDoc probably have a sprain or a jammed finger. Get home and apply RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and monitor your progress each day. But if things don’t start turning back to normal in the next few days, or if you have concerns that it isn’t healing as you’d expect then it’s always safe to seek proper physician evaluation.

New IHSA pitch limits can help save competitive pitchers from themselves

Pitching in his fourth game in three days, Matt Blaney headed back to the mound for the last two innings of a travel-league championship game because that was where his competitive drive steered him.

It didn’t matter that Blaney’s Chicago-area team led 9-0. It didn’t matter that Matt’s father, Tom, kept trying to make eye contact with his son in the dugout to give him the signal to stop throwing. It didn’t matter that, at the time, Matt was 14.

This was baseball life as the Blaneys knew it. This is the reality many families of promising pitching prospects live, a dangerous mindset that plagues all levels of the sport and contributed to Illinois becoming one of 44 states to impose pitch limits on high school hurlers.

“I’d motion to Matt with my fingers to my neck, like, ‘OK, cut it off now,’ and he would shake his head no,” recalled Tom, who accepted responsibility for not being more assertive. “On the way home from games like that, we’d get ice on his shoulder and arm. He’d be like, ‘Dad, I’m not coming out. If they want me to go, I’m going.’ I was like, ‘You’re going to hurt your arm.’ ”

Tom’s words proved prophetic in August 2015 when his worst fears were realized. At a summer-league game on the Illinois-Chicago campus, Matt struggled with command. The right-hander’s 85-mph fastball lacked its normal zip, suspicions confirmed by the ever-present radar gun that registered 78. At a tournament in Kentucky a week later, the wildness continued.

“My body felt I was throwing hard, but there just wasn’t any velocity,” Matt said. “It really dipped. Something was wrong.”

A recommendation landed Matt in the capable hands of Dr. Mark Cohen, a surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush respected for his experience dealing with elbow problems. Cohen advised six months of rest, with the hope of avoiding surgery, but an MRI after the layoff confirmed the inevitable. If Matt ever wanted to pitch again, he would require Tommy John surgery — which replaces the elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament with a tendon harvested elsewhere in the body.

“My dad and I looked at each other and thought, ‘Oh, God’ …more devastation than anything,” said Matt, who underwent surgery May 10, 2016.

Lincoln Way-East pitcher Matt Blaney is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

“When I started 24 years ago, we’d see one or two (teenage Tommy John patients) a year, but now we’ll see four or five in a week every summer,” Cohen said.

The surgery has evolved into such a popular, proven alternative that Cohen knows of young pitchers who have sought the procedure to improve their performance. He chuckled at the recollection.

“The myths are incredible and, yes, we have parents and kids coming to essentially become bionic and see the surgery as almost a rite of passage,” Cohen said. “They all know one of three major-league pitchers has had Tommy John surgery, so it’s something they perceive as advantageous. Of course, it’s all false. You don’t throw harder after Tommy John surgery. You throw back to your potential.”

Matt Blaney’s pursuit of his own potential continued this week back at practice for Lincoln-Way East. A 5-foot-9 senior hoping for appointment to the Naval Academy, Blaney expects to slowly build back arm strength by pitching in relief by the end of the month before working his way back into the rotation.

“It will be long-awaited,” he said.

A 6-inch scar on his right elbow serves as a constant reminder for Blaney, the first to admit the ordeal strengthened more than his arm. He credits the mental toughness necessary for rehabilitation for making him a better student and a smarter pitcher who learned to throw to contact. He blames nobody but himself for piling up innings that eventually converted him from pitcher to patient.

“I don’t think I was overused; I was a competitor,” he said. “I wanted to stay in games. I always wanted to go the next inning. Coaches would let me keep pitching, but they were only doing what I asked to do.”

Hopefully, the new IHSA rule making emotion moot and limiting the number of pitches to 105 per game — with four days’ rest mandated after throwing the maximum — results in a trickle-down effect. Too much glory surrounds extreme examples such as Illinois State pitcher Brady Huffman throwing 167 pitches for Genoa-Kingston High in a 10-inning game last spring. The legend of Kerry Wood’s 175-pitch outing for Grand Prairie, Texas, in a 1995 high school regional always should be more instructive than entertaining.

“I’d like to see the rule applied to every level of youth baseball,” Lincoln-Way East coach Paul Babcock said of pitch limits. “Most high school coaches would agree.”

Not to mention surgeons.

“Nowadays, there’s such a premium placed on winning that you hope the people making these decisions respect the parameters,” Cohen said. “We need coaches, families and kids on board. Guidelines are only as good as the people who follow them.”

The IHSA implementing more to protect young arms represents a quality start.