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Published on April 21, 2017

soccer players

Youth sports 101: Instead of specializing, diversify!

Youth sports are a great way to encourage physical activity as well as socialization, teamwork, improved self-esteem and learning to play by the rules. They're also just plain fun!

Unfortunately, most sports also come with some risk of injury. A growing trend of children specializing in one sport versus multiple sports can increase this risk. Such specialization often involves intense training and repetition that can lead to overuse injuries, burnout and the potential to affect a child long-term.

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"Specialization increases the risk of injuries because the focus is on the same movement patterns, using the same muscles, tendons and ligaments over and over," says Laura Hudson, Gundersen athletic trainer. "Children should be training all parts of their body and neurological systems to become 'athletes' rather than something specific such as a basketball player," recommends Laura.

One of the best ways to help keep your child healthy and injury-free is through sports diversification. Participating in different sports involves different parts of the body, allowing some to rest while others are strengthened. Increases in skill and strength in one sport often translate to improvement in other sports as well.

When injuries strike

Gundersen's athletic trainers provide outreach at more than 32 area schools and cover 1,700+ area sporting events annually. These certified trainers work closely with coaches and athletes to evaluate and provide immediate care for injuries. If additional care is needed, trainers can help connect you with a sports medicine specialist, physical therapist or surgeon.

For a list of participating schools, visit gundersenhealth.org/athletic-trainers. If athletic trainers are not offered at your child's school, contact your child's primary care provider to discuss their injury and if a referral is appropriate.


  1. Trends and Participation in Organized Youth Sports, 2008 ed., National Council of Youth Sports
  2. Safe Kids Worldwide, 2012
  3. Overuse Injuries and Burnout in Youth Sports: A Position Statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine