Those teams, which are open to kids as young as 6 or 7, play year-round and often leave little time for other sports or for free play. “It makes sense for somebody who’s running a private sports club to want you to specialize year-round, because that’s their livelihood,” says Bowers. “We have to acknowledge that a part of the specialization is that it’s in a lot of people’s financial interests to have kids specializing and participating year-round.
Right now there’s not enough data on specific sports, but Neeru Jayanthi, a doctor at Emory Sports Medicine who studies specialization, estimates that on average, specializing can double the risk of injury for young athletes. “These children have adult-level skills, but they’re still in a child’s body,” he says. “You have to remember that they’re doing phenomenal things on the tennis court, but when you’re talking about training loads and their ability to tolerate this week after week and year after year, they’re still a child.
It’s lauded by thousands of YouTube videos of rising stars like Sky Brown, a 10-year-old pro surfer and skateboarder who is aiming to compete in the 2020 Olympics. Then there’s the $2. 9 billion in college sports scholarships, more than double what it was 15 years ago. “Sports performance has always coincided with the stories we tell ourselves about the American Dream,” says Matt Bowers, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin, who studies athlete development. “Being able to work your way towards a better life through this type of outlet.
But the effects of specialization on American sport culture are more insidious and longer lasting. “The greater public health worry is that we’re getting a small group of kids who are playing sports all the time and a larger group of kids who are playing videogames,” says Jayanthi.
Play lots of sports. Especially if you’re a little kid. https://t.co/0IoPmHqgc2— WIRED (@WIRED) July 4, 2019
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