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A saner approach to kids’ sports may be the ticket to success

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- So you want your child to grow up to be the next Steph Curry or Serena Williams. Just focus on one sport, you may think, or at least play that sport most of the year. Experts say there is a saner approach to kids' sports that can be the ticket to success.

Those little kids wearing Alcides Escobar jerseys on the diamond have big dreams. So do many of their parents. They have dreams of their child one day making spectacular plays just like the Royals' shortstop. The odds are astronomical. But no matter which sport is played, many parents, coaches and kids think if you practice more, play more, focus more on that sport, you boost your chances of getting a college scholarship or maybe even becoming a pro. If you don't specialize?

"I think kids are being told they won't be good enough. I think they're being told there won't be a spot on the team. They can't take a season off," said Nicole Elliott, a parent.

Only the experts say that's wrong.

"There aren't studies showing sports specialization leads to greater success. What we do know it leads to is greater rates of burn-out in adolescent athletes. We know it leads to increased risk of overuse injuries," said Dr. Greg Canty, a sports medicine specialist at Children's Mercy Hospital.

Elliott's daughter, Katie, is rehabbing at Children's Mercy Blue Valley. She tore an ACL playing soccer. Before that, she suffered a stress fracture twice in her other leg. Katie is 14-years old.

"I realized, wow, I'm putting a lot of stress on my bones and my muscles," she said.

Katie doesn't know if she'll play soccer again. She had played eight months of the year, and ran track along with soccer in the spring.

Experts say if you participate more than eight months in a sport and exclude other sports, that's specialization. The say there is a better way.

Consider the story of Riley Pint.

"Baseball would be three months in the summer. Take a month or two off and then he'd go into basketball," said his father, Neil Pint.

Riley played some soccer, too. As he grew older, he played more baseball, becoming a star pitcher at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. But he still took a break for basketball. It wasn't until his senior year that Riley just played baseball. College coaches and pro scouts had been watching.

"They loved the fact that Riley played multiple sports just 'cause they knew he wasn't throwing year-round, was using other muscles of his body," said his father.

"You develop a different skill set that helps you overall as an athlete," Dr. Canty said.

Look at NBA superstar Steph Curry. As a kid, he played football, baseball and soccer, too. NFL superstar J.J. Watt credits his success to playing multiple sports.

"I don't think this message is out there enough," Dr. Canty said.

"Let 'em play sports. Multiple sports. Don't focus on one sport early. There's no reason," Neil Pint said.

His son's name was the fourth called at this year's Major League Baseball Draft. There was a $4.8 million signing bonus for a kid who didn't focus solely on baseball until this past year.

The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine says girls should wait to focus on a single sport until age 12, and boys should wait until they're 14. Here are more of the society's recommendations.

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