Youth athletics is growing at a rapid pace. More and more travel leagues and advanced teams give skilled players the opportunity to improve their skills. But at what cost?
A review by Brown University recently studied over 10,000 children and teens. Their conclusion – kids who specialize in a sport are more likely to get injured. The vigorous programs and relentless hours of practice and games leads to injuries such as stress fractures, tendonitis, and ACL tears.
I am not suggesting taking your child out of youth sports, and I am definitely not suggesting adding a sport to diversify versus specialize. The focus is on training volume. Youth athletes that specialize typically spend more hours than other classmates training hard at a particular sport. Adding a second sport to diversify would only worsen the problem with an increased workload demand.
Here’s What To Do For Your Youth Athlete
Instead, parents should encourage youth athletes to condition in the off season and take part in Yoga or Pilates to increase core strength and flexibility. Parents should also make sure the work demands on their children stay at a manageable level. If the child is constantly complaining of minor aches and pains, this may be an early warning sign that they are over-training.
I recommend consistent stretching and recovery to help deter potential problems. Epsom salt baths are great recovery solutions. Make sure the athlete is getting enough sleep. Once the child reaches middle school, they stay up later and get less sleep. In order to recover from the demands of school, sports, and a social life, they will need their sleep. Massage and chiropractic care also help the youth athletes through their tightness and muscle imbalances.
Feel free to add a sport, but don’t add more hours training. I recommend playing only one sport at a time. Stretching is a must. Stretch major muscle groups such as quads, hamstrings, and piriformis muscles. Use weight training in the off-season to improve strength. Add cross training to help the body get acclimated to different movement patterns. Unilateral exercises will also help the athlete improve their stability. Good luck, train smart, and have fun!
Dr Spencer Charlet