Sports help kids build confidence and learn valuable life lessons.

Most importantly, they should be fun for kids, but sometimes young athletes who find a sport they love will push themselves or get pushed by their parents into doing it exclusively, and studies have found that’s unhealthy in the long run, and winter can provide a natural break.

“Playing a sport all year round, especially the same sport, increases your exposure time to that sport, it increases your risk of injury, and then, of course, in a younger athlete, that repetitive stress on those young growing bones puts you at higher risk of stress injuries,” said Dr. Matthew Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara, a sports medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health, says there are other problems with overspecialization.

“Then there’s the mental part of it, which certainly can be much more subtle,” Santa Barbara said. “Things like declining performance fatigue can be signs of mental burnout. Research has shown that mixing it up and playing different sports throughout the year decreases the risk of mental and physical burnout.”

Changing up your sport in the winter can be valuable.

“For winter sports, we’re thinking most of our indoor sports, like basketball, wrestling, volleyball,” Santa Barbara said. “Winter (again) because of the change in venue can give you the opportunity to try something else, learn skills in basketball that may translate to football, learn skills if you’re going to be outdoor skiing or doing outdoor sports to build up your endurance that way you may be better in the track season coming up in the spring. Participating in different sports that cross training benefits athletes in the long run.”

Santa Barbara has one important tip when making the winter switch.

“Any time you’re transitioning from one sport to another, there should be at least a week or two of a break where really kind of a full shutdown before rolling right into the other season,” Santa Barbara said. “That allows the body time to heal to recover to get ready for the next sport.”

Santa Barbara pointed out that this is really most applicable to athletes younger than 16. Depending on their level of proficiency and college prospects, students may stick to one sport year-round, but at that level, their coaches should still provide well-rounded conditioning.

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