Is aggressive sports training worth the price?

As adults over 50, we all "remember" how hard we used to work and practice our sport. Many of those workouts ended with the coach asking for one more sprint, just as we thought that we had nothing left. Presently, many high school athletes are asked to do the same workouts that we remember, but their seasons last for twelve months not two or three. Kids sometimes play on two teams, the weekend team and the school team. One program leads to another program. Additionally, there are conditioning coaches and a plethora of private coaching and training programs available to increase a child's chances for athletic success.

While I am the first to say that being in shape is a requirement for success and injury prevention in sport, I am also next in line to say that intensive training is a primary cause of injuries among high school athletes. What I have observed over the past 20 years with youth training are two concepts that have been pushed to the limits: More is better; and doing more means working harder. Working harder translates into doing everything faster, higher and stronger. When combined with increased volume, the potential for injury is greatly increased.

In the book called Until it Hurts, by Mark Hyman, Dr. Lyle Micheli from Children's Hospital in Boston estimated that in 2009 75 percent of the kids who came through his office had overuse injuries. In the early 1990's that figure was about 20 percent. This means that even with all of our knowledge and advances in physical training and coaching, the system is failing. Kids might be in better shape and able to perform at higher levels, but they are also sustaining serious injuries at ever increasing rates.

What is too often forgotten is that kids are still growing and their bodies are not meant to take the continual physical stress of organized and ultimately repetitive training programs. It does not matter how knowledgable the conditioning coach is or how perfectly the program is taught. The act of continually putting kids through year-round aggressive training is not the right approach, and it has not been the right approach for the past 2 decades.

I am working with an injured college senior who had to stop rowing one year into her college career. Four years ago, her high school team was second at nationals and she went to college with the expectation of continuing her successful ways. Unfortunately, her career was cut short due to a back injury caused by excessive training.

Her year round program consisted of rowing at various intensities, along with participation in one of the local, well known and highly regarded private conditioning programs. Her trainers pushed her hard to develop the necessary strength and power for rowing, and her coach made sure that she put in the necessary practice on the water. She took on all of this work with a body that was still growing.

The result was that her team almost won a national title and her rowing career ended.

My client is now bothered daily by back problems that make sitting or standing for long periods of time uncomfortable and she can no longer row. While no one can say for sure that this was her destiny, training or no training, it can be said that she worked extremely hard year-round, nearly achieved the ultimate goal for a high school rower and paid a heavy price.

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