You might consider your child the next Usain Bolt and already have plans in place to harness that skill and tap into it at a very young age because the earlier the better right? Well, according to a recent study out of Indiana University, you might want to hold off on that and have him or her shoot hoops for the time being as playing multi-directional sports at a young age as opposed to specialization reduces the risk of bone injury later in life.

Dr. Warden Stuart and his research team believe that at a young age, focusing on sports that require unidirectional movements like track and even swimming can result in skeletal microdamage — leading to increased chances of bone stress injuries like fractures in the future — whereas, playing soccer, basketball and other sports that require one to run all over the place and in no specific direction lessens that risk. 

To reach this conclusion, high-resolution imaging was used to compare the distal tibia as well as other common body stress injury sites of female college cross-country runners with a history of running, jogging, cycling, or swimming at a young age to female cross-country runners with a history of multidirectional sports like soccer or basketball at a young age instead with inquiries made to determine the frequency at which these sporting events were performed during adolescents and the degree and duration of exposure.

The results showed that the female runners who participated in sports like soccer and basketball had a much stronger distal tibia and an overall denser bone architecture hinting at a more efficient bone developmental process in childhood hence reducing the risk of injuries in the latter stages of life. The result also backed up previous studies in both military and athlete populations that reported reduced BSI risk observed in participants with prior participation in ball sports.

“Our research shows that the runners who played multi-directional sports when younger had stronger bones as collegiate athletes, which puts them at less risk of bone stress injuries including stress fractures”, Warden said. He also went on to add, “Specializing in one sport at too young of an age means they are more likely to get injured and not make it at the collegiate and professional levels.”

With most junior league coaches taking the specialization route to get the best out of young talents, this new finding might be a good reason to take a step back and try a different approach. Build them up with a different sport and reap the benefits of a much stronger and more efficient athlete at the professional level.

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