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NATA Releases Guidelines on Youth Sport Specialization

Andy Berg

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association yesterday released an official statement of recommendations to reduce the risk of injuries related to sport specialization for adolescent and young athletes.

NATA supports the following recommendations as they relate to the health and wellbeing of adolescent and young athletes:

1. Delay specializing in a single sport for as long as possible. Sport specialization is often described as participating and/or training for a single sport year-round. Adolescent and young athletes should strive to participate, or sample, a variety of sports. This recommendation supports general physical fitness, athleticism and reduces injury risk in athletes.

2. One team at a time: Adolescent and young athletes should participate in one organized sport per season. Many adolescent and young athletes participate or train year-round in a single sport, while competing in other organized sports simultaneously. Total volume of organized sport participation per season is an important risk factor for injury.

3. Less than eight months per year: Adolescent and young athletes should not play a single sport more than eight months per year.

4. No more hours/week than age in years: Adolescent and young athletes should not participate in organized sport and/or activity more hours per week than their age (i.e., a 12-year-old athlete should not participate in more than 12 hours per week of organized sport).​​​​​​​

5. Two days of rest per week: Adolescent and young athletes should have a minimum of two days off per week from organized training and competition. Athletes should not participate in other organized team sports, competitions and/or training on rest and recovery days.​​​​​​​

6. Rest and recovery time from organized sport participation: Adolescent and young athletes should spend time away from organized sport and/or activity at the end of each competitive season. This allows for both physical and mental recovery, promotes health and well-being and minimizes injury risk and burnout/dropout.

"Studies show that young athletes often see specialization as a prerequisite to advancing - making the varsity team, earning a college scholarship or progressing to the professional level,” said NATA President, Tory Lindley, MA, ATC, in a statement. “When athletes specialize too early, or engage in excessive play, they are increasing the probability of injury and reducing the chances of achieving their goals. We want to help athletes and parents recognize health is a competitive advantage.”

The statement was endorsed by Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS), Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society (PHATS), Professional Soccer Athletic Trainers Society (PSATS), National Basketball Athletic Trainers’ Association (NBATA), Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS), and the NATA Intercollegiate Council for Sports Medicine (ICSM).

NATA acknowledges sports specialization as an evolving health issue in adolescent and young athletes. Current evidence supports an association between sports specialization and overuse injury in athletes. While current literature has paid more attention to the physical and mental aspect of sports specialization, the psychosocial implications of young athletes continue to be a concern.

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