Early sport specialization where our youth athletes focus on a single sport year round has become more popular over the last decade. The 10,000 hours reference (original study in violinists not athletes) reinforced this concept despite the adverse events of early sports specialization include burnout, depression/anxiety, lower athletic performance, and sports injuries. Research into high level professional athletes indicates the vast majority of these athletes did not specialize in an individual sport until their late teens (post high school). Playing a variety of sports or playing sports on a seasonal vs. year round allows for recovery and correction of repetitive sport specific movements like throwing. A recent study highlights the importance of the offseason in youth baseball athletes.
Otoshi and colleagues in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery enrolled close to 700 elementary school baseball players who underwent a medical history, physical examination, and ultrasound investigation of their elbow joint (2019). Authors reported an inverse relationship between elbow pathology found on ultrasound and the duration of the athletes’ off season. Athletes who played either a longer season or multiple seasons per year were found to have the greatest prevalence of elbow pathology. Conversely, an athlete’s risk of pain and pathology on ultrasound was significantly lower if their off season last longer than 1-2 months. As expected, authors found off season recovery was significantly associated with the presence of elbow pathology.