Young Athletes at Risk of Playing and Practicing Too Much by Riley Hennessey

January 17, 2011
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Young athletes can compete longer and harder if they allow for proper rest and recovery time.

Young athletes can compete longer and harder if they allow for proper rest and recovery time.

An increasing number of young athletes are spending more time in orthopedic offices than on playing fields because of excessive play and over-training.

Today’s young athletes are accustomed to brutal practice schedules, year-round conditioning, and constant pressure from coaches pushing them to succeed. As a result, more young athletes are seeing their seasons cut short and their long-term health put in jeopardy. After wearing out or breaking down, they often face the choice of surgery or ending their athletic careers before they ever really got started.

            According to the American Academy of Pediatrics an estimated 30 million children and teens participate in organized sports every year. Of those 30 million athletes, about 3.5 million seek treatment for overuse injuries and chronic fatigue from overtraining. If they’re undergoing surgery and physical therapy, they can’t very well be on the field or court playing and enjoying their favorite sport.

            Overuse injuries are powered by a number of factors. Often prepubescent athletes are competing at too intense a level before their bones and muscle groups have properly developed. Pushing them to play are often sports-crazy parents and equally exuberant coaches, unaware that overuse of young limbs, ligaments and joints can lead to serious injury.

            The Sports Medicine Center at Pomona Valley Hospital helps many young athletes recover from their sports injuries. Had parents and coaches been more prevention-oriented from the outset, however, many of the young athletes in their care would never have had to become patients. “Because we’re seeing more children playing sports at an earlier age, we’re also seeing more injuries,” said Rick Rossman, head of the Sports Medicine Center. “Many young athletes simply look at surgery as a quick fix so they can get out and play again.”

            There is a better way, however. Parents and coaches need to show more care and caution in managing their young athletes . They need to strike a better balance between the young athlete’s passion for sports and the need to protect them from serious overuse injuries.

            Many parents and coaches believe practice makes perfect, but it’s hard to practice when you’re sidelined by injury. Injured athletes also face a greater risk of athletic burnout. Sports are supposed to be fun, but if young athletes spend more time in the training room rehabbing than playing, that’s no fun at all.

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