UW-Madison study: Overspecialization in youth sports connected to daytime tiredness

UW-Madison study: Overspecialization in youth sports connected to daytime tiredness

If your kids are signed up for football, volleyball or another sport this school year, there’s a new study out showing it might be a good thing to get them involved in more than one. Researchers at UW-Madison say there are a host of issues linked to focusing too much on just one sport, and it could even impact their abilities in the classroom.

The study shows youth athletes who focus on one sport are much more likely to get sleepy throughout their day.

Dr. David Bell is the co-author of the study. He’s also an assistant professor in the departments of Kinesiology, Orthopedics, and Rehabilitation at UW-Madison. He says the findings of the study should change the way we approach youth sports. Dr. Bell says times have changed, and three-sport athletes are not as common as they once were, but he also says it’s important not to over focus on the negative aspects of sports.

“We know that the number one reason that kids play sports is because they love it and enjoy it, but also the number one reason that kids drop out of sports is because it’s not fun anymore,” Bell explained. “We need to make sure that parents are checking back in with their kids to make sure, ‘hey are you having fun, are you happy, and do you still love what you’re doing?'”

UW-Madison study: Overspecialization in youth sports connected to daytime tiredness

Bell says we need to focus on finding a balance between having fun, being physically active, and burning out.

In the study, youth athletes were asked if they play or train in a single sport more than 8 months per year, if they could name a primary sport, and if they’ve ever quit a sport to focus on a single sport or only played a single sport before. If they answered yes to all three questions, they’d be considered highly specialized. Two would be considered moderate. Answering yes to one or zero was considered low. Researchers then compared the participants in different activities, such as face to face conversations, traveling, homework or being in the classroom. Researchers found that those athletes focusing solely on one sport experienced daytime sleepiness much more often compared to others.

“At some point, a kid is probably going to have to specialize in a sport, especially as they move into the high school age, but we really want kids to make sure that they’re active and that they’re having some free time and enjoying life and enjoying playing with their friends when they’re young, and then specialize as you get older,” Bell added.

Bell says the study showed highly specialized athletes were also more likely to travel out of state which could add to the overall exhaustion.

Overall, the children researchers spoke to were very happy playing sports. On a scale of one to ten, Bell says most came in at a ten or just under.

UW-Madison researchers recommend not playing a single sport for more than eight months of the year. They say you can break it up by playing for three months and then taking a month off. Experts tell News 3 children should be playing a sport about the same number of hours a week to their age. For example, a 10-year-old should only participate in sports for about ten hours a week. Experts say too much sport can keep youth athletes from getting the rest they need.

“Sleep is one of the best recovery tools that we know of. So we know athletes that can get eight to ten hours of sleep per night actually report being less fatigued and report having better wellness scores the next day,” Bell explained. “So sleep is a really powerful tool that youth athletes can use to counteract the negative effects of training.”

Bell says it’s also important for your child to take a day or two off every week. He adds it’s important to remember that the reason most kids play sports is because it’s fun. Less than one percent of youth athletes end up getting a scholarship to play college sports, so if your child isn’t all that into it, Bell recommends maybe backing off on the pressure, and you’ll probably also save some money, too.