I had a bit of an introspective moment Tuesday after seeing a Twitter conversation blow up about youth athletes playing more than one sport.

I had a bit of an introspective moment Tuesday after seeing a Twitter conversation blow up about youth athletes playing more than one sport.
Do we, as a culture, put too much pressure on kids to specialize, to their own detriment?
The Twitter conversation, triggered by an article from www.yellowhammernews.com and shared by Varsity Kansas’s Joanna Chadwick, involved coaches, athletes and media types, all of whom had the consensus that allowing kids to play in more than one sport was a big benefit to both the athletes and the high school programs.
It encourages them to stay in shape in a variety of ways, find multiple activities that they enjoy participating in and avoid burning them out on one particular sport.
And yet, there is a growing number of youth programs and parents that push for specialization, to the point that kids as young as 3- or 4-years-old are being treated like professional athletes.
Let that sink in.
The article that spawned this discussion included a few quotes from an interview Dr. James Andrews, the world-renowned orthopedic surgeon who almost entirely focuses his work on athletes, gave with the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Andrews noted a sharp increase in youth sports injuries in 2000 and began tracking the information over the next several years. What he found was a five- to sevenfold increase in youth injuries, which he traces back to specialization.
“Specialization leads to playing the sport year-round,” Andrews told the Plain Dealer. “That means not only an increase in risk factors for traumatic injuries but a sky-high increase in overuse injuries. Almost half of sports injuries in adolescents stem from overuse.”
Andrews pleads with parents in the interview to give their children about two to three months off each year to recover from a specific sport. That means, using baseball as an example, Andrews advocates two to three months where the athlete does no overhead throwing of any kind.
However, the rise of the so-called elite, year-round clubs and teams show that not many take that advice and the athletes, themselves, don’t seem to mind, either.
ESPN The Magazine commissioned a study by a University of Florida research group this past spring of elite youth athletes, and found that 96 percent of the 1,250 high-level athletes between the ages of 10 to 18 polled really enjoyed playing at that elite level, of being what amounts to professionals before many are even old enough to take driver’s ed.
But is it what’s best for the kids? Is forcing them to focus on the one sport like a full-time job, in addition to school, a potential part-time job and the normal ups and downs of a teenager’s life really for the best?
Sure the goal is a scholarship to an outstanding college or possibly even the brass ring of a professional career. Many point to Tiger Woods  and his rise to superstardom at the age of 21, which began at the age of two.
However, the reality is that most won’t be the next Tiger Woods or LeBron James (who, by the way, also excelled on the football field as a wide receiver in high school).
In fact, the University of Florida study found that, the longer they specialized, the more an athlete burned out, going from that 96 percent enjoyment rate of their sport at ages 10-15 to 85 percent for 18-year-olds.
With that in mind, why not have them play multiple sports? Your athlete might discover something they will be passionate about for the rest of their lives, even if they don’t pursue it professionally, and it will keep them from losing a love of the game.
Not only that, but it makes them well-rounded athletes, which is something coaches at the higher levels appreciate.
“We don't want the kid who's pasteurized and geared for one thing," UNC women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance, who has won 21 of the 32 NCAA women's soccer championships, told ESPN.com. “We want the kid that wants to beat you in everything -- even freaking tiddlywinks.”
McPherson County has a multitude of examples of athletes who not only want to, but will succeed in multiple sports. Two of the more prominent examples of this have to be former McPherson High twins Ryan and Peter Horton.
The duo finished third in the Class 5-1A State Soccer Championships, then followed up that with a state basketball title, a state doubles tennis championship and a second place team finish in the tennis tournament.
The Bullpups had enough talented pieces in both soccer and basketball that they could have finished strong without the Hortons on the pitch or the hardwood had they focused solely on tennis, but their absence would have been noticeable.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a cut-and-dried issue. It is one, however, that I believe will be getting more and more discussion in the coming years.

Contact Chris Swick by email at cswick@mcphersonsentinel.com and follow him on Twitter @SwickSentinel.