In the face of the growing epidemic of overuse injuries in youth sports, sports parents are often given two different kinds of advice: to make sure that their kids don't play sports all the time (too much sports) and to make sure their child isn't playing a single sport too much (too much sport).
Balance and variety is best
In considering what "too much sports" and "too much sport" mean it is helpful to use real-world examples.
Consider first a 10 year old who plays basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring and summer, soccer in the fall, and swims recreationally throughout the year. Is he playing too much sports or too much sport? Neither. Because he is only playing one sport per season, he isn't playing too much for his growing body to handle at any one time; and, because he plays a variety of sports that use different muscles and require different skills and his only year-round activity (swimming), is recreational, not competitive, he isn't playing too much of any single sport.
Too much sports
Next, let's consider a second 10-year old boy. In the winter, he plays thirty basketball games and is on two youth hockey teams. In the spring, summer and fall he plays baseball, with an exhausting schedule of over 100 games, including tournaments in which three or four games are packed into a single weekend. In the spring and the fall he also plays travel soccer, with two practices a week and a game every weekend, and he swims on a competitive team all year round with a meet every other weekend. This athlete isn't playing too much of any single sport, which is good, but this is simply TOO MUCH SPORTS for any 10-year old. He's the sports equivalent of a 24-hour cable news network: all sports, all the time, running the risk of burnout.
Too much sport
Finally, consider a third ten-year old boy. He plays baseball in spring, summer, and fall (100+ games, not including practices) and during the winter takes private lessons in hitting, pitching, and defense. He starts throwing and conditioning drills in January to prepare for weekend tournaments in Florida starting in late February. He also plays on a semi-competitive soccer team and plays basketball with a church team. He is thinking about swimming but his shoulder is too sore from throwing all the time. This boy is simply playing TOO MUCH SPORT (all baseball, all the time). He is already experiencing symptoms of an overuse injury (sore shoulder) and is at a very high risk of a more serious shoulder or elbow injury that in all likelihood would require surgery, not to mention burn out. And he may be at risk of injury even when he is playing recreational soccer or basketball because he may not be spending enough time developing the necessary skills to perform those sports well.
The calendar may tell the story
How do you know if your child is playing too much sports or too much sport? Take a look at the calendar. If there are no or very few blank days, you should consider whether your child is simply playing TOO MUCH SPORTS.
If you look at the calendar and what you see is entry after entry for the same sport over the course of the entire year, more than likely your child (especially one who is in elementary or middle school) is participating in TOO MUCH SPORT.