By: Dr. J.A. Smith, DO, CAQSM, Riverside Orthopedics, Sports Medicine & Physiatry Specialists
In my previous post, I discussed some of the causes of the rise of overuse injuries among young athletes. Here, I’ll provide some recommendations to avoid these injuries and keep your children having fun on the field (or court) for years to come.
As in, play more sports. Instead of playing in winter, spring and summer baseball leagues, children can reduce their risk of overuse injuries by playing different sports. Break up baseball seasons with a soccer camp or a few weekends playing golf with dad. Research even suggests that single sport specialization does not improve a child’s chances of becoming an elite athlete.
While it seems logical that more play and practice leads to better performance, the opposite may actually be true for youth athletes. Studies show that children involved in intense competition within a sport for a decade are more likely to experience burn out by the time they reach college. Children should take at least a few months off (we recommend at least 2 months) from their main sport of interest to explore other activities and hobbies. As they are resting the muscles involved in their primary sport, children can also develop new physical skill sets.
Parent and coaches don’t have to worry about an extended time off affecting later performance. Research shows that those who take up a sport in their late teens can catch up very quickly to those who started playing years earlier.
Sports should be an outlet for kids to have fun. Young athletes will benefit physically and psychologically if games and matches are supplemented with play that is less structured and less competition-driven.