Organized Sports or Free Play: Which has more Injuries?

We don’t see kids gather in groups randomly on fields anymore, playing pick-up games without a coach present; it seems like a thing of the past.  Maybe the “disorganization” seems unproductive, possibly even dangerous when we parents believe organized sports could better protect a kid from harm while allowing them to play and exercise.
Coaching teen sports is always a win!

A new study suggests the fault in that thinking; that children and teens who spend twice as much time playing organized sports (especially a single sport) than they do in free play are more likely to be injured.

That is according to an abstract presented this week at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, FL.

This recent study included more than 1,200 children between the ages of 8 and 18.  Titled “Risks of Specialized Training and Growth for Injury in Young Athletes: A Prospective Cohort Study”, lead author Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, medical director of primary-care sports medicine at Loyola University Health System in Chicago writes:

We found that kids on average play organized sports nearly twice as much as free play. Those kids who exceed that two to one ratio are more likely to be injured.

I recently spoke to a great group of involved moms at Trinity Lutheran Church on Mercer Island, WA.  These parents with kids ranging from toddlers to young adults agreed one of the trickiest areas to balance is knowing when children should specialize in one sport versus staying involved in more than one and transitioning from season to season.

Remember Early introduction to a sport isn’t the problem, it’s the early specialization: if a child is specializing in a sport, try to limit their involvement to three or four days a week at most, and to just seven or eight months a year, says Dr. Dennis Cardone, chief of primary-care sports medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

In today’s world, specialization may be necessary if you want to get a college scholarship, but don’t start specializing until mid-adolescence or later… they need time away from the sport.

In speaking to HealthDay, Jayanthi adds “Even professional athletes don’t compete all year.”



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