In recent years, sports specialization has become a hot topic amongst both parents of young athletes and medical professionals. There are a lot of questions swirling around early specialization: When should my child begin to focus on just one sport year-round? Are there injury risks associated with specialization? Does specializing in one sport provide a significant benefit for their skill development?
While answers to these questions aren’t always straightforward, in a recent study Dr. Mininder Kocher, an orthopedic surgeon and associate director of the Boston Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine Division, found some compelling evidence of the risks of early sports specialization.
It’s August during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Abbey D’Agostino is a runner in the 5,000-meter preliminary heat. She smiles and waves at the camera as it pans in front of the participants at their starting blocks — a positive, self-assured smile that stands out amongst the competitive grimaces around her. In this moment, she is where all track and field athletes aspire to be — at the pinnacle of their sport in an Olympic stadium.
When your child plays a sport, it’s often hard to tell where everyday aches and pains end and a potentially serious injury begins. Bumps and bruises are anything but rare in contact sports, and muscle soreness can be a common complaint for any young athlete — especially given the rigor of youth athletics these days. So how do you know when your child’s hip pain is due to an actual injury?
“The crux of Olympic competition is to do everything you can to be the first one to cross the finish line,” says Abbey D’Agostino. But that’s not what Abbey did during the 5,000-meter qualifying heats in the 2016 summer games.
Abbey had trained for her Olympic moment for years, adhering to the rigid 24/7 lifestyle of an elite athlete since graduating from Dartmouth College and signing to run professionally with New Balance.
Abbey’s Olympic moment came unexpectedly when she and New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin collided and tumbled to the ground.
What happened at the Olympics is an example we should be talking about in youth sports. It’s not just about achievement. It’s about sportsmanship.
Abbey ignored her training, her coach’s advice, her dreams.
She stopped and extended her hand to Nikki, and the pair hobbled through the final mile of the event side by side.
“What happened at the Olympics is an example we should be talking about in youth sports. It’s not just about achievement. It’s about sportsmanship,” says Dr. Mininder Kocher, associate director of Boston Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine.
There were a few things Abbey didn’t know during that fateful mile. She would be diagnosed with a devastating injury: a complete tear of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a meniscus tear and a strained medial collateral ligament. She and Nikki would be awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for Olympic spirit. And her team would expand.
Physical therapist Carl Gustafson would join Team Abbey, along with her coach Mark Coogan and Kocher, a world-renowned knee surgeon. …