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Multiple sport participation: How much is too much?

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​It has been said that busy people get more done. But if your calendar has no white space because of your scheduled activities (including sports), you may want to look closer at balancing scheduled time with down time.looking down at feet with three arrows pointing in three different directions

At any age, the benefits of participation should not outpace the importance of time spent for recovery and rest.

Trends for participation in organized sports have been toward getting children involved at a younger age and in more than one sport. Community and school-based activities contribute to less and less unscheduled time. What factors are important when determining how to fill the time? Consider some pros and cons.

Sports and extra-curricular activities provi​​de a number of benefits including:

  • Developing self-confidence and self-esteem – both reduce anxiety and depression and improve problem-solving skills
  • Learning social and life skills – these are helpful in developing relationships and respect for others, teach teamwork and leadership skills, provide time management and goal setting opportunities, and reduce teen drug use and pregnancy
  • Improving health – decreasing risk for obesity and diabetes
  • Increasing physical development – building muscle

Downsides exist for too much time spent doing sports and ex​tra-curricular activities including:

  • Less free play and free time for imagination and gaining self-awareness; less opportunity for unorganized sports, such as pick-up family and neighborhood games
  • More risk for overuse injuries and burnout if you are playing a particular sport all year, or on multiple teams with increased training time and with a less physically- and mentally-mature body
  • Increased competitiveness and expectations for success that cause stress or take the fun out of the game

Watch for these ‘red flags’ that may indicate your sports ​​participation is over the top:

  • Physical stress signs such as headaches and stomach-aches
  • Fatigue and irritability
  • Practice absence without a good excuse
  • Decreased performance level
  • Nagging injuries

Strive to balance the time spent in play or competition wi​​th unscheduled time.

  • ​Allow rest and recovery periods by:
    • Limiting the number of sports and activities participated in at one time
    • For younger ages, trying only one activity at a time with an emphasis on fun
    • Taking at least one day off a week
    • Allowing an ‘off season’ such as a three-week period without any organized activities
    • Ensuring physical demands of the sport are appropriate for age, growth and development
  • Train smart by:
    • Using strength training during the off season
    • When increasing volume, lowering the weight
    • Limiting road trips
    • Using certified coaches who have been educated and have reasonable expectations for frequency, duration and intensity of practices
    • Seeing an athletic trainer or physician at the first sign of pain with activities
  • Eat right by:
    • Fueling up with fruits and vegetables
    • Getting enough protein
    • Drinking plenty of water
    • Avoiding sugars and fast foods
  • Listen to yourself and your family by:
    • Giving yourself and your family a say in scheduled activities
    • Asking yourself and your family about what to participate in and to what extent
    • Remaining positive and encouraging
    • Keeping a healthy perspective about winning, losing and how games are played

​​​Share comments or questions on this information email: sports.medicine@marshfieldclinic.org​.