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Global Think Tank in Consensus on Youth Sports Specialization

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An unprecedented multidisciplinary group of international thought leaders convened by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) has concluded that excessive concentration in youth sports does not benefit the athlete, and increases the risk of overuse injury and burnout.

The group comprised HSS’s Dr. Frank Cordasco and other leaders in Orthopaedics, Primary Care Sports, Physical Therapy and Athletic Training, and included the Medical Directors of the NCAA and IOC. The group’s purpose was to review the available evidence on early sports specialization and identify areas where scientific data are lacking.

Dr. Cordasco said the roundtable study was necessary to arrive at definitive guidance for parents and educators who have been subject to myriad conflicting opinions about the pros and cons of early sports specialization.  “In pursuit of achievement and opportunity for their student-athletes, many have followed the logic that advantage can be gained with earlier and deeper specialization,” said Dr. Cordasco.  “However, that intensity takes a disproportionate toll on young bodies leading to an alarming increase in the incidence among children of injuries that were previously found mainly among professional athletes.”

“Such injuries can have an especially serious and lasting impact on the child, and waste precious public and private health dollars,” added Dr. Cordasco.  “In participating in this unprecedented forum and resulting Consensus Statement, my esteemed colleagues and I hope to enable healthier and more rewarding athletic pursuits for young people and their families and communities.”

Here is an excerpt from the complete Consensus Statement:

“The current evidence supports the contention that children should be encouraged to take part in a variety of sports at levels consistent with their abilities and interests to best attain the physical, psychological, and social benefits of sport.  Children who specialize early (eg, prior to maturation) in a single sport may execute less age-appropriate sports skills, especially when they do not participate in as many youth-led activities (eg, deliberate play) as their peers. Without opportunities to experience sport diversification, children may not fully develop neuromuscular patterns that may be protective of injury. Based on the cumulative evidence, sport specialization was concluded to be a real issue that will very likely continue to occur in many sports. The authors recommend the inclusion of diverse opportunities for motor skill development during the growing years, combined with planned integrative neuromuscular training to help optimize the potential for success and reduced injury risk in young athletes.”

Dr. Frank Cordasco is an Orthopedic Surgeon in the Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service at Hospital for Special Surgery. The primary focus of Dr. Cordasco’s practice includes ACL and meniscus injury in the pediatric, adolescent, and adult athlete; shoulder instability; bicep tendon tears, rotator cuff and pectoralis tendon repairs, clavicle fracture surgery and AC joint separations. Dr. Cordasco’s research and education activities parallel and complement these clinical areas of expertise.

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