Billy is 13 and can’t wait to start baseball season. He loves the game and hopes to pitch in college.

He and his parents have decided he should stop playing other sports to focus on baseball. He will play on three different teams this year, a total of 10 months on the diamond. Billy wants to make sure he stays healthy to maximize his chances of a college scholarship. He and his parents wonder what they need to know now that Billy will only be playing baseball.

Billy has become a specialized athlete, a child or teenager who plays one sport at the exclusion of other sports.

Dr. Christian Turner

Even though Billy is confident that this will increase his chances of a scholarship, studies have shown that NCAA Division I athletes are more likely to have played multiple sports in high school. And while certain sports like gymnastics and figure skating may require earlier specialization, baseball doesn’t. Playing multiple sports is beneficial because the skills learned in one sport can transfer to another and improve overall performance.

For specialized athletes, there is also a risk of overuse injuries. Baseball pitchers specifically are prone to shoulder and elbow overuse injuries. For Billy to stay healthy, he and his family should look at the Pitch Smart website for information on pitch count, rest days for different ages, and risk factors for injuries.

For youth baseball pitchers, studies have shown that pitch volume has the greatest association with injury rate. Other factors that might increase Billy’s chance of an injury include pitching while tired, pitching on consecutive days, playing catcher in addition to pitching, and not taking enough time off from baseball every year.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young athletes have at least three months off from their primary sport every year. This can be done in one-month increments and allows for physical and psychological recovery. The AAP also recommends at least one to two days off per week from the child’s primary sport to decrease the chance of injury.

What about burnout?

Billy and his parents talk about the risk of injury from specializing in baseball, but ultimately decide to continue with their plan. Billy finishes the first two baseball seasons and starts to realize that he is not looking forward to practices or games.

He used to love baseball when he was able to play with friends and learn new skills, but now there is a lot of pressure from coaches to perform well. A family friend says that it sounds like Billy might be suffering from burnout. Billy’s parents learn that high training volumes, high time demands, and a high perception of stress can contribute to burnout in young athletes. Billy’s parents also read that some of the symptoms of burnout – decreased motivation, depression and decreased self-confidence – sound exactly like what Billy is experiencing.

kids celebrating
Team sports can build unity, but young players must guard against overuse injuries.

Billy’s parents take him to the pediatrician, where they all agree that he should take a month off from baseball and see how he feels. During the month off, Billy plays with friends and seems to be doing much better.

When it is time to go back to baseball, he seems excited and pitches better than he had been before the time off. But at the end of that season, he decides he would like to scale back on baseball so that he has time for other sports or just hang out with friends.

Billy and his parents decide that he will participate on two teams per year instead of three, which will give him at least three months off from baseball. He starts playing lacrosse and realizes that the exercises in lacrosse practice have helped him become a stronger baseball player.

NOTE: Billy and his parents are fictional characters based on patients Dr. Turner sees regularly.

Dr. Christian Turner  is a sports medicine pediatrician at Novant Health Pediatric Sports Medicine-Midtown.

You don’t have to be a professional athlete to get world-class care for your sports-related needs. Download our guide on common sports-related injuries.