Playing for Fun Could Reduce Sports Injuries
Posted by Dean Holden at February 14th, 2013
By Beth Carter, 6 February 2013, Wired.com
Playing in the occasional pickup basketball game or sandlot ballgame could be an excellent way for young athletes to avoid injuries.
Sports medicine specialist Dr. Neeru Jayanthi and his colleagues at Loyola University found that young tennis players who don’t engage in other sports or games are much more likely to suffer an injury than young tennis players who occasionally do something beyond the court.
“Our world today of young-person athletics is more organized sports, practice, practice and compete,” said Jayanthi. “We already know that there’s a reversal in how kids are participating in sports, with double the amount of time in organized sport versus playing for fun on their own.”
Jayanthi, an expert in tennis medicine, and his collaborators have followed 891 competitive young athletes for three years. This group includes 618 athletes had sought treatment for a sports-related injury and 273 uninjured athletes who were given a physical. The pool included 124 tennis players, 74 of whom played only tennis.
The injured athletes who played only tennis spent 12.6 hours a week playing the game in a structured setting and only 2.4 hours in free play. The uninjured players spent about 9.7 hours a week playing tennis and 4.3 hours pursuing recreational sports. The injured players spent five times as much time playing organized tennis as they did playing for fun, while uninjured players spent only 2.6 times more time. A similar ratio was found when comparing injured tennis players with uninjured athletes who play many different sports: Injured tennis players spent 5.3 times as much time playing tennis as anything recreational, and the injured multi-sport athlete only spent 1.9 times as much time in organized sports vs. recreational sports.
So far, Jayanthi and his team are continuing to enroll more athletes and collect more data and can’t say this will be true of all sports.
“A projection can be that for single sport athletes, maybe having more free play is actually protective of their injuries,” said Dr. Jayanthi. “They’re still out there a lot, but the total number of hours is divided up differently. We want kids to be out there doing a lot of stuff.”
The theory is that playing other sports strictly for fun exercises different muscle groups, and could ease the stress that accompanies the singular focus on excelling in a single sport. Jayanthi and his team are looking at this more closely, and encouraging athletes to consider just having fun from time to time.
In another survey, Jayanthi asked 400 collegiate athletes how much training they did before college. He found that many of them played a variety of sports and didn’t focus on their single sport of choice until they were older, suggesting that it is better for young athletes to engage in a variety of activities.
“We have to do better developing athletic skills, and not just one thing, until late adolescence” said Jayanthi.
The benefits of diversification of movement seems like a no-brainer for promoting fitness and creating well-rounded athletes, but this preliminary data shows it could also help young athletes stay healthy.