In sports, how many young athletes do you know play all year around? It could be playing one sport or a different sport each season. It is estimated that 30 to 45 million youth 6 to 18 years of age participate in some form of athletics (Brenner 2007). Don’t get me wrong; when I was a kid, I played football, basketball and baseball. There were times when I played and by the end of the year, I was feeling tired and in pain. By the time I reached the end of high school, all of the practices, games and training started to take a toll on my body and injuries started coming frequently.
Your Body is Your Temple
Overuse injuries can happen in different ways. If you think about how many times you’ve thrown a ball, ran, swung a bat and jumped, this places stress on our bones tendons and muscle. Without the adequate rest, our body doesn’t completely heal. As a strength and conditioning coach, I work with all sorts of young athletes. I’ve seen swimmers who train year around and have shoulder pain at age 10. I’ve seen baseball players doing travel ball with elbow pain at age 11. What we can do for all athletes is have a proper injury prevention program that targets these areas of concern for injuries.
Less is More
It is hard to say with little studies out there on how much practice is too much. As coaches, we need to realize that a ten year olds body is not the same as an eighteen year olds and it needs to be trained differently. Injuries tend to be more common during peak growth velocity and some are more likely to occur if underlying biomechanical problems are present (Brenner 2007). Some research has recommended that there should be five days of training with two days of rest. I know when I played this was not an option. In baseball, we would have weight training in the morning, practice in the evening, games three days a week and on top of the weekend tournaments. After doing this for six straight years (including college) I lost my passion for the game. If I could do it all over again, I would have taken a practice off and recovered. As coaches and parents, we need to recognize the signs of overuse and it could be necessary to shut them down to let them heal, refresh their minds and work on reteaching the movement patterns required in their sport.
For the Love of the Game
Burnout syndrome is a topic that some of us do not realize could happen. A burnout is defined as a series of psychological, physiological and hormonal changes that result in decreased sports performance. As an athlete, this can happen from being in pain all the time, tired, you lost the love of the game, or you’re not motivated to even play in a game. Luckily, burnout is preventable. Brenner (2007) suggests:
- Keep workouts interesting, with age-appropriate games and training, to keep practice fun.
- Take time off from organized or structured sports participation 1 to 2 days per week to allow the body to rest or participate in other activities.
- Permit longer scheduled breaks from training and competition every 2 to 3 months while focusing on other activities and cross-training to prevent loss of skill or level of conditioning.
- Focus on wellness and teaching athletes to be in tune with their bodies for cues to slow down or alter their training methods.
I love sports and always will. I would do anything to go back to playing sports all the time. The most satisfying thing about sports is putting in all that training and practicing to accomplish your goals. The problem with putting in all that time is overtime it can take a toll on your body. Remember that taking time off to work on your flaws that may be causing these injuries can help you avoid these issues. Take care of your body and the sky’s the limit!
1. Brenner JS; American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout in child and adolescent athletes. Pediatrics. 2007 Jun;119(6):1242-5. Review.