Is There Such a Thing as “Too Much” When it Comes to Youth Sports?

By Janis Meredith | Posted 6/29/2020

Do your kids play the same sport several days a week throughout the year? On weekends too?

According to a report in the New York TimesYoung athletes are practicing too hard in just one sport, increasing the risk of injuries and burnout. New guidelines urge parents to reduce the intensity.

New recommendations issued by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association urge parents to ensure that children and adolescents postpone specializing in one sport for as long as possible, that they take at least two days off each week for rest.

USA Football’s Football Development Model stresses avoiding sport specialization with their Whole Person & Multi-Sport Development pillar. Young athletes should play multiple sports to help develop as an athlete, gain and strengthen skills that translate from sport to sport and keep things fun (which all helps reduce burnout). These are just a few of many reasons why kids should dip their toes in different sports throughout the year.

But perhaps the toughest recommendation is this one: A proposed rule of thumb: A child’s age equals the number of hours he or she should spend in sports training each week.

How is a sports parent supposed to do that? Sticking to those guidelines will be like swimming upstream in today’s competitive and demanding youth sports culture.

Here are a few ways that parents can avoid “too much” when it comes to youth sports:

Put off specialization for as long as possible. When young athletes specialize too soon, they are more likely to burn out physically and mentally.

Once your child hits 13 to 14 years of age, then it might be time for them to consider specializing. It’s usually around high school age that athletes are faced with a decision to choose a sport if they really want to get as good as possible in it. However, before that, you and your child need to resist this pressure to specialize. Keep in mind that this isn’t a race we’re talking about here. More is NOT better! Very often, what is better is MORE FUN, less intensity and more variety.  (Competitive Advantage).

One sport at a time, please. Other than some sports overlapping because the seasons are back to back, let your child play one sport at a time. I know it’s tempting to give in when they are asked to play or when they are asking to play, but for young athletes, this is not good for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it’s hard for you and the family. Running here, there and everywhere, not being able to really enjoy the journey of youth sports, getting stressed from all the demands placed on you and your family because your child is always on the go—is that really how you want to spend your time with your child? It will be over in a flash, and I fear that many parents will regret the craziness they endured for the sake of “keeping kids occupied” or being sure that their kids were “getting ahead.” That demanding schedule could easily hurt the parent/child bonding.

Second, that kind of schedule is not healthy for your child. Kids need time to just be kids, to be creative and learn how not to be bored. Filling every moment of their days for them leaves little time for that. Keeping kids occupied is usually done for the convenience of parents. Parents want them busy and happy, so they won’t cause trouble or bother them, but that kind of parenting falls short of allowing kids to enjoy learning and growing on their own or with a parent.

Limit one sport to 8 months a year. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association urge parents to not have their young athletes play a single sport more than 8 months a year. Time off gives overstressed muscles and tissues time to recover. 

Doing one activity day after day, month after month, and year after year puts stress on the same bones and joints all the time. These kids’ bones, ligaments, muscles, and tendons are still growing, and they can’t withstand the repetitive stresses and forces without rest. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, almost 50% of injuries in youth sports are overuse injuries. (Dr. David Geier)

Parents, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture here. Youth sports is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end, that end being your child growing into a strong, responsible and trustworthy adult. Youth sports are a great way to learn some of those lessons but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. See your child as a whole person, who needs much more than a busy sports schedule to grow up healthy. Check out USA Football's Football Development Model to learn more.

Janis Meredith is a family life coach who wants to help all parents raise champions. You can find out more at


USA Football's new model for youth football is designed to make the game safer by reducing contact and by teaching the game based on an athlete's age, the skill they are learning and game type.