NEW YORK, N.Y. — The best thing young players can do for their basketball careers is participate in other sports.
Those were among the guidelines announced Monday by the National Basketball Association (NBA) and USA Basketball to begin Jr. NBA Week. The Jr. NBA is the league’s youth basketball program for boys and girls ages 6 to 14. The recommendations come from panels of medical experts, former players, and coaches and administrators throughout basketball.
They found that the most successful athletes played multiple sports at a young age and didn’t focus on a specific one until late adolescence.
“The idea of sampling and participating in other sports does not mean you’re getting behind,” said Dr. John DiFiori. He is the NBA director of sports medicine and the University of California Los Angeles basketball team physician. “They actually provide a strong foundation for success in your sport.”
Focusing On One Sport Has Drawbacks For Youths
LeBron James, perhaps the NBA’s best player, played football through his junior year of high school. But those who focus on basketball too soon face some risks that can last well beyond their teen years.
“There’s a concern that single sport specialization may contribute to injuries and may also contribute to basically loss of interest in the sport from sort of the repetition of incessant participation in one activity,” DiFiori said. He added that some young athletes develop overuse injuries specific to a certain sport. These include shoulder problems from swimming or stress fractures from running.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has made player health one of his biggest concerns and is working to create a schedule that allows more time for rest and recovery. The league went further earlier this year by looking into youth sports.
Guidelines Created To Benefit Young Athletes
The NBA put together groups of experts to look at health and wellness, playing standards, and curriculum and instruction. They came up with guidelines that stressed the importance of time away from the court. Their recommendations include amount of practice and game time, and even amount of sleep.
“I think sometimes parents and coaches can forget that there are only so many hours in the day and that when you have someone who’s going to high school and they’re at school from 8 o’clock to 2 o’clock, or to 3 o’clock and then they’re at practice for a couple of hours,” DiFiori said. “They need time to study, they need time to eat, they need time to commute back and forth to school and practices, they need time to sleep.”
He added that kids also need time to recover. “It’s important that people actually look at that and realize that you can’t pack everything into one day and still necessarily have a healthy situation.”
Limiting “High-Density Competition”
The guidelines suggest limiting “high-density competition,” such as tournaments that feature multiple games in a short period of time.
DiFiori noted the guidelines apply only to organized competition, saying that individual practice time or pickup games are fine. The guidelines have been endorsed by numerous youth organizations, sports apparel companies and supported by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
“We’re sending a message to families, young athletes, coaches about rethinking how we do things at the youth level,” he said.