The new player emerging in youth sports
is the overuse injury.
So often we hear the refrain, “No pain, no gain,” specifically as it relates to athletics. Coaches want their athletes to work hard and are likely to encourage, motivate, and in some cases even push their charges to run faster, hit harder, or throw greater distances.
As children increasingly become specialized in certain sports, they are likely to undertake repetitive skill training. They may “drill” at a certain task over and over again – often for hours on end. What they may not realize is they are about to meet an increasingly visible and insidious new player in the sports arena.
The new player emerging in youth sports is the overuse injury, and it is making its presence known with younger and younger athletes. The overuse injury, once the provenance of adults and professional athletes is showing up on a national scale and is concerning the medical profession enough that it has become the subject of recent articles and special reports.
Dr. Lyle Micheli, in his article, “The New Scourge of Kids Sports,” cautions parents that, “One of the most disturbing aspects of overuse injuries is their insidiousness. Often kids won’t admit to being sore - they just drop out of sports, often for life. When they go undetected, the damage to a growing child’s hard and soft tissues can be permanent. Evidence suggests that overuse injuries sustained in childhood may continue to cause problems in later life - arthritis, for instance.”
The Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School go on to warn in their own special report, “In youth sports programs, fitness and skill development have to be balanced with the need to avoid overtraining. Overtraining is when the athlete is required to do too much – either physically or mentally, or both. Parents need to be sensitive to changes in performance and attitude that suggest their children are being pushed too hard. Such changes may be precursors of physical injury.”
So how do we go about encouraging perseverance and dedication to a sport without risking lifelong damage to joints, bones, ligaments and tissue? One answer is to carefully monitor both the length of time children train each week, as well as the amount of daily increase in training they experience as they approach a new season or competition.
As a general rule, young athletes should not train for more than 18-20 hours per week. If children are engaged in elite competitions, they should be under the care of a qualified sports doctor with an expertise in caring for young athletes. In all instances, sports participants should be under the guidance of a qualified coach.
“Increasing the frequency, duration or intensity of training too quickly is one of the main causes of injury,” according to the Harvard Medical School Study. “To prevent injuries caused by too-rapid increases in training, follow the ‘ten percent rule.’ The rule refers to the amount a young athlete's training can be increased every week without risking injury. In other words, a child running 20 minutes at a time four times a week can probably safely run 22 minutes four times a week the week after, an increase of ten percent.”
At The Peck School, our goal is to inspire our young students to love sports and exercise for the rest of their lives. If we risk injuring them through overuse, they may lose their passion for the sport and we will have generated the opposite effect.