In health news that should surprise no one, kids who engage in a variety of sports in unorganized play or “pick-up games” sustain fewer injuries than kids whose sports time is allotted to more structured competition, especially in a single sport.
In other words, fun is healthy, according to an ongoing study conducted at the Loyola University Medical Center.
The study found that even when the total hours of sports play were the same, kids who used more of their sports time engaged in unstructured play were less likely to have injuries. The study also found that kids who played only one sport were more likely to be injured than kids who diversified.
So, congrats on your kid’s laser-like focus, but you might want to encourage him or her to chill out.
Sports medicine specialist Dr. Neeru Jayanthi and colleagues found that injured young athletes who play a single sport such as tennis spent much less time in free play and unorganized sports than uninjured athletes who play tennis and many other sports.
Dr. Jayanthi followed 891 young athletes who were seen at Loyola University Health System and Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago clinics. Participants included 618 athletes who sought treatment for sports injuries and 273 uninjured athletes who came in for sports physicals. Study participants included 124 tennis players (74 of whom played tennis exclusively).
Among single-sport tennis players, the ones who suffered injuries spent 12.6 hours per week playing organized tennis and only 2.4 hours per week in free play and recreation. By comparison, the uninjured tennis players spent only 9.7 hours per week playing organized sports, and 4.3 hours a week in free play and recreation, even while having a similar total number of weekly hours.
In other words, the injured tennis players spent more than 5 times as much time playing organized tennis as they did in free play and recreation, while the uninjured players spent only 2.6 times as much time playing organized tennis as they did in free play and recreation.
Researchers found a similar ratio when he compared injured athletes who specialize in tennis with uninjured athletes who play all sports. The injured tennis players spent 5.3 times as much time playing organized tennis as they did in free play and recreation, while the uninjured athletes spent only 1.9 times as much time playing organized sports as they did in free play and recreation.
“Our findings suggest that more participation in a variety of unorganized sports and free play may be protective of injury, particularly among tennis players,” Dr. Jayanthi said.
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