Muscular Imbalance

The Perils of Over-Specialization in Youth Sports

Luke Bonner
Dec 27, 20234 min read
Muscular Imbalance

Muscle Imbalance: The Perils of Over-Specialization in Youth Sports

If you spend much time around high school sports, it seems inevitable that you will see some young person hobbling around on crutches with a knee brace. ACL tears, a clear example of injury arising from muscle imbalance and one of the most serious injuries an athlete can face, seem to be proliferating in high school age athletes — in fact, a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that the rate of ACL tears has been increasing 2.3% per year over the last 20 years. The authors cite several possible reasons for the increase, including higher rates of year-round participation in high-intensity athletics. The repetitive movements and difficulty in taking time off from a busy school, club and travel team schedule mean that bodies don’t always have time to recuperate, which can lead to injury.

A couple months ago, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr presented an argument on the Men in Blazers podcast for why playing soccer makes better basketball players. Kerr’s comments struck a cord for many because it feels rare to hear a coach at such a high level promote another sport, but his reasoning resonates. Better passing, he said, cutting, and angles. These field- and court-vision skills are about tactics: how to make the ball do the work and keep the other side off-balance. What also matters about this synthesis is the way it benefits bodies in motion as well as minds.

But Steve Kerr’s point had less to do with avoiding overuse injuries or burnout, and more to do with variety. Today, kids (and parents) are getting more serious at a younger age about elite athletics. Often, that means year-round participation in a single sport. According to a 2018 survey by the Aspen Institute and analyzed by the University of Texas, high school athletes who primarily played boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball and boys basketball started specializing in their primary sport at an average age of just 10 years old. It sounds outrageous, but that’s where we’re at as a society.

It may seem illogical to some, but this hyper specialization can actually be counterproductive. All athletes know that you peaking at the correct time is everything. You don’t want to burnout too early. Plus, the strengths of one sport can bolster another. Mentally, seeing the patterns on the hardwood as analogous to the pitch helps unlock new potential. Physically, we see the importance of not overusing muscles or limiting activity to one type of exercise. Figur8 has taken up the physical piece of this challenge, creating technology that not only provides athletes feedback on their progress, but also identifies muscle imbalances and possible areas of strain in real time. This objective data can then inform your training. With a thorough understanding of your body, you can optimize your training in such a way that will boost your odds of staying healthy while also maximizing your performance and improvement.

Playing other sports is not taking time away from your primary sport, it’s adding to your overall health and well-being. If Steve Kerr were the Czar of American Basketball, we might have a new model for what elite athletics mean: an understanding and appreciation for the hard work it takes to be good at anything, and the enjoyment that comes from seeing the game from a new angle.


Related posts

  • [object Object]

    Physiological Balance is Everything

    On an individual level, physiological balance is an essential piece of the performance puzzle. For every push, you need a pull.

    Streaks are inevitable in sports. It’s part of the appeal as a fan, seeing momentum swing from one team to another. On a micro level, this plays out on a game by game basis. But it also plays out throughout the course of a season, both physically and mentally.

    The emotional aspects of balance are obvious. Seasons are long, a lot can happen. Everyone strives for consistency, but we all succumb to human nature and external elements beyond our control. The best teams strive for a culture of equilibrium — never allowing themselves to get too high or too low throughout the course of a season.

    Over the past couple of decades, our view of athleticism has evolved. Raw power alone is no longer the ideal. Now, we marvel at athletes who achieve the optimal blend of strength and flexibility. Maintaining finesse is no longer a backhanded compliment, we recognize the value in being able to elegantly maneuver through dynamic situations — think about how Steph Curry operates at point guard for the Golden State Warriors as opposed to the bully ball days of a Tim Hardaway. These types of modern day athletes who dominate sports today have not emerged by mistake, but are the result of deliberate training to achieve elite level status. There’s nuance to achieving this balance, fine tuning small muscles, keeping your hips forward and body aligned as you zig-zag through crowded space. Beyond the performative advantages of balance, there is more awareness to achieving longevity for a career.

    Professional teams are investing millions of dollars in their athletes, so they want to ensure they are doing everything in their power to prevent injury. We are in the age of analytics and data. It’s now rare to find a professional franchise in any major sport that does not invest heavily in a performance team as well as a dedicated data and analytics department.

    Technology has come to the forefront of helping us objectively define balance. For example, FIGUR8 technology is now providing tremendous value to the sports landscape at all levels, bringing objectivity to quantifying human movement in an accessible manner. Previously, the analysis provided by FIGUR8 was only able to be defined by feel or through overly cumbersome technology. Now, we can gain valuable insights into the biomechanics of an athlete, and quickly identify any potential muscular imbalances. This info then informs training to ensure imbalances are corrected rather than exacerbated. This not only helps improve individual performance, but has much larger long-term implications. Players are smarter today than ever before. They understand the value of their body, and the long-term implications of being able to compete later into their lives. These athletes are embracing technology that provides them with invaluable insights into their most valuable asset: their bodies.

    In sports, you never want to waste time worrying about things outside of your control. You will always go through periods of highs and lows. One of the best ways to stay balanced is to maintain a level of objectivity through it all.

    Nov 2, 20232 min read