Youth Sport and Injury

Without going into the details and statistics that show an increase of injuries amongst kids who play sports, I would like to share with you some thoughts on prevention.

First, consider that the increase in kids getting injured over the last 20 years has coincided with an explosion of youth, group fitness programs and skills development classes. One would assume that with so many experts offering programs that injuries would decrease as performance levels increased. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. Do not assume that anyone is looking at the big picture with respect to team practice and the local youth conditioning and skills development programs.

Second, if your adolescent has become a year around single sport athlete and a participant on two teams in the same sport, at the same time you should question the amount of time spent and intensity of practice. While certainly, a year round program will improve your child's skill level and propel him or her to the next level, what is the point? Is it because one child in your area played a particular sport year around and remained healthy and interested enough to have gotten a division 1 scholarship? If so, why do you think this approach will work with your child?

Third, chances are your child is spending more time studying than similar kids 30 years ago. If not studying or playing organized sport, your child is most likely glued to the smart phone, computer screen or both. This means your child is essentially going from sitting to full speed with organized sport and fitness on a regular basis. Thus, even if your child is getting the appropriate levels of coaching, conditioning and skill development doing nothing or going full speed is not balanced.

Fourth, in the days of free play when the coach was not around telling a kid to run faster or jump higher, many base level fitness qualities were developed organically. Coordination along with basic power, strength and endurance were improved before a young kid ever stepped onto the playing fields of organized sport. Today, there is no free play. Kids are developing their sports skills under the strict guidance of a coach who is dictating sets, repetitions and duration. On their own, kids will run and jump until they get tired. With a coach, they will run and jump until the coach says stop.

To address the injury problem, start by taking a step back from the routine. Understand your goals, your kids goals and the goals of the coaches. The coach, especially a volunteer coach cannot be assumed or expected to see the big picture. Next, do not put your child in 6 days per week combinations of sport practice, skills development and conditioning classes. Encourage playing catch, pickup basketball or any other physical activity with friends. Lastly, do not fall for the immediate skill improvement and success that aggressive practice creates for the possibility of high school stardom and scholarship offers. Given that so few kids ever reach the highest levels of sport, excessive training for most kids is not worth the downside of burnout and lifelong injuries.

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