Spending more time in un-organized free play such as pick-up games may be one way for young athletes to avoid injuries.
In a first-of-its-kind study, sports medicine specialist Dr. Neeru Jayanthi and colleagues at the Loyola University discovered that injured young athletes who play a single sport such as tennis spent much less time in free play and un-organized sports than uninjured athletes who play tennis and many other sports.
Jayanthi presented his research at the Society for Tennis Medicine and Science and United States Tennis Association-Tennis Medicine and Injury Conference in Atlanta.
In this collaborative study, Jayanthi examined 891 young athletes who were seen at Loyola University Health System and Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago clinics. These included 618 athletes who sought treatment for sports injuries and 273 uninjured athletes who came in for sports physicals. Participants included 124 tennis players [74 of whom played tennis exclusively].
Among single-sport tennis players, the ones who suffered injuries played proper tennis for 12.6 hours per week and only 2.4 hours per week in recreational games. In contrast, the uninjured tennis players spent 9.7 per week playing organized sports, and 4.3 hours a week in free play and recreation. In other words, among the injured tennis players ratio of time spent on organised sport to recreational games was 5:1 where as the same ratio was 2.6:1 among those who were not injured.
“Our findings suggest that more participation in a variety of un-organized sports and free play may be protective of injury, particularly among tennis players,” Jayanthi said.