Apr 06, 2022 • 5 min read
One of the most common causes of injuries amongst youth athletes is overuse. Many children and parents see through social media and the news, that the only way to get college athletic scholarships, make the best teams, and reach is the top is to start young and practice all of the time.
There’s been an emphasis on participating in one sport to fit the idea and goal that becoming exceptional at something means focusing entirely on that one skill, or in this case, sport. With an increased message around becoming excellent at one sport, the pressure cultivated has grown dramatically. Both parents and kids now feel the need to practice, perform at peak levels, and sacrifice other passions and interests, to be the best.
Now, how does this play into getting hurt? With so much time focused on sport specialization, it can put young athletes at risk for injury as well as psychological stress. Research has shown that kids that engage in sport sampling, meaning they try different sports, have increased physical capacity and motor skills as well as build social emotional skills.
Here are some ways that as a parent you can help prevent overuse injuries from happening to young athletes.
When it comes to knowing your child, parents know best. Look for signs in your young athlete for how they are doing both mentally and physically. Pay close attention to how they are doing both performance wise, but also their attitude leading up to and after sports practices and games. If they are noticeably not as energized, enthusiastic, or showing signs of discomfort, it’s worth bringing up with them you’re concerned. If your child comes to you that they are feeling some pain or are run down, listen. It’s better to hold them from a couple practices and let them rest and work through what is going on then to push them too hard.
There’s often pressure around sports to go hard 100% of the time, when in fact that isn’t possible at all. Even the best athletes in the world rest and happen to be pros at that too. Normalize the conversation with your youth athletes around rest and encourage them to practicing resting on off days rather than pushing themselves to the point of injury. Usually practices have off days throughout the week, but those days for serious athletes can often be supplemented with additional training days. Try and take 1-2 days a week to rest. Go on a walk, cross-train with yoga or something entirely different, and practice some recovery methods like an ice bath, legs up the wall, or stretching.
Sporting sampling refers to trying a variety of sports. For young athletes, “debunking the myth of early specialization presents a real opportunity for elite and community sport organizations to align behind a common experience for kids through age 12,” Project Play and The Aspen Institute wrote. “Research has shown that kids who sample sports have increased physical capacity and motor skills, an increased ability to translate those skills to other sports, stay in sports longer, and are more likely to build social emotional skills through sports.”
Sport sampling also opens up the opportunity for young athletes to find a sport or sports they love. By learning about new games, new players, and skills, the potential for finding a sport that a young athlete can resonate with and stick with increases.
Sport sampling encourages a healthier balance, which may improve participation in sports for a longer period of time.
I remember my mom telling me to come home when it got dark out. It wasn’t because she didn’t care where I was throughout the day, but it was because as kids we played freely much more back then. Playing pick-up soccer at the park, four square, and soccer tennis over parking lot sports was normal. We didn’t have the pressure to find the best private coach in order to have an adequate practice session, we just played. Encourage your kids to get back to what they love and when they feel the most free with sport. Let them thrive in moments of free-play and pick-up. Look for sports organizations that follow methods like a play-practice-play system that lets kids just play the game at the beginning, focus in, and then play some more. By finding more practices centered around scrimmaging, there will be less monotony and training focused on specific body parts. This will better help the athlete mentally, but also physically.
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