Playing in the occasional pickup basketball game or sandlot ballgame could be an excellent way for young athletes to avoid injuries.
Sports medicine specialist Dr. Neeru Jayanthi and his colleagues at Loyola University found that young tennis players who don’t engage in other sports or games are much more likely to suffer an injury than young tennis players who occasionally do something beyond the court.
“Our world today of young-person athletics is more organized sports, practice, practice and compete,” said Jayanthi. “We already know that there’s a reversal in how kids are participating in sports, with double the amount of time in organized sport versus playing for fun on their own.”
Jayanthi, an expert in tennis medicine, and his collaborators have followed 891 competitive young athletes for three years. This group includes 618 athletes had sought treatment for a sports-related injury and 273 uninjured athletes who were given a physical. The pool included 124 tennis players, 74 of whom played only tennis.
The injured athletes who played only tennis spent 12.6 hours a week playing the game in a structured setting and only 2.4 hours in free play. The uninjured players spent about 9.7 hours a week playing tennis and 4.3 hours pursuing recreational sports. The injured players spent five times as much time playing organized tennis as they did playing for fun, while uninjured players spent only 2.6 times more time. A similar ratio was found when comparing injured tennis players with uninjured athletes who play many different sports: Injured tennis players spent 5.3 times as much time playing tennis as anything recreational, and the injured multi-sport athlete only spent 1.9 times as much time in organized sports vs. recreational sports.