By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
- Professional major and minor league baseball players who were multisport athletes through high school had significantly longer professional careers with fewer injuries than players who were solely focused on baseball
- This is further evidence of the benefits of multisport participation
Sports medicine specialists and team physicians want to see all of our athletes succeed to the best of each of their abilities. But
The Star-News Athletes of the Year are Rio Hondo Prep’s Tiffany Horton, left, and South Pasadena High’s Steven Colliau pictured in the South Pas High gym June 17, 2009. (SGVN/Staff photo by Leo Jarzomb/SPORTS)
we’re also in a position to see the many things that unfortunately go wrong for younger athletes, including overuse injuries, burnout, and psychological stress.
It’s believed that two of the main causative factors in the above problems are early sport specialization and high intensity training at a very young age. For the younger athletes it’s believed that sport specialization hampers the opportunity to develop proper neuromuscular skills and general fitness.
Major medical organizations such as the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics have come out with position statements strongly supporting multiple sport participation, limited single sports participation to maximum eight months per year, and limitations in hours played per week.
Sports requiring repetitive highly technical skills seem to place particular pressures on athletes to specialize early. Baseball pitching is one of these endeavors.
In this recently published study, it was hypothesized that players in major league baseball who played multiple sports in high school would experience fewer injuries, spend less time on the disabled list, playing more games, and have longer careers than athletes who played only baseball in high school.
Their results proved their hypothesis. They found that single sport athletes had a significantly higher prevalence of upper extremity injuries compared with multisport athletes, and single sport pitchers had a higher prevalence of shoulder and elbow injuries compared to the multisport pitchers.
This is the first study I’ve come across to specifically look at career longevity and the impact that early specialization had on major league baseball and minor-league baseball players.
The authors speculate that the results reported here might be due to increased training and throwing volumes early in life for the single sport athletes. Many single sport athletes playing baseball did so for significantly more months per year than their multisport counterparts. Additionally they speculate that the multisport athletes would benefit from neuromuscular training through sports other than baseball, possibly causing a protective effect against future injury.
Due to the study’s design, it is not possible to make an exact cause and effect relationship between single sport specialization and later impact on their professional baseball career. However the Association is very strong.
The study authors make a very forceful statement in their conclusions:
“Therefore, young athletes interested in a baseball career at the highest professional level can minimize the risk of overuse injuries and have the potential for greater future longevity by participating in multiple sports during high school. These findings should be reiterated to parents and coaches who might influence young athletes to train and participate in a single sport.”
I wholeheartedly agree.