By: Dr. J.A. Smith, DO, CAQSM at Riverside Orthopedic, Sports Medicine & Physiatry Specialists
As a sports medicine physician, it’s clear to me that the philosophy of “practice, practice, practice,” while well meaning, may be doing a disservice to youth athletes. Often times, injuries that occur during the critical growth period—typically ages 12-16 in girls and ages 14-18 in boys—can result in chronic long-term injury, pain or limb discrepancy in addition to decreased performance.
Several factors contribute to the increase in overuse injuries and burn out among athletes under 18 years old.
Early Sport Specialization
Rather than playing a variety of sports, more and more children are specializing in a single sport, and even single positions within that sport. This leads to performing the same motions repetitively, which can put young athletes at a greater risk of sustaining injury to still-growing muscles and bones.
Many sports now offer competitive play throughout the year. Combined with sport specialization, this is a recipe for injury and burn out. Rest is a vital component of healthy growth and development in children. Competing for nearly an entire year in the same sport may actually hurt a young athlete’s chances of playing the sport later in life due to long-term injury.
Putting on the Pressure
Not only are children playing the same sport year-round, the level of intensity is greater than ever before. Playing “for fun” has been replaced by pressure to win championships or attract attention. This constant, intense athletic competition can make young athletes more susceptible to both physical and psychological harm.
Our highly competitive culture can encourage the more is more mentality, but a growing body of research is discounting this perspective when it comes to young athletes. In my next post, I’ll suggest some guidelines for avoiding overuse injuries and burn out in this younger population.