Written by: Jonathon Cooper, PTA, NesinFIT @Lincoln Mill Clinic Director
Not to date myself, but I’ve been a father for 27+ years, and I’ve been working at Nesin for almost 20 years. Unfortunately as a therapist, I have been aware of the increasing number of kids who are picking a single sport and choosing to compete in that sport year-round. Yes, some of the kids dedicate all of their time to a team, but often kids will compete in a single sport through their school and a recreation league in addition to year-round travel teams. Don’t forget to add additional time for specialized training too! As a result, there has been an increasing number of overuse injuries in youth sports.
What types of youth sports you might be asking? We see a lot of these overuse injuries happen more in sports like baseball, gymnastics and cheerleading.
The most frequent injuries we see in children are elbow and shoulder injuries. The most common is an overuse injury is to the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), caused by pitchers throwing too much. This damage, which is very difficult to repair, can compromise a child’s ability to compete and sabotage the goal of year-round sports, which is often to compete at a collegiate or professional level.
Even just a generation ago, it was common for kids to play 2-4 sports throughout a year. Football or cheerleading in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball or softball in the spring, and swimming in the summer. Not only does this result in a more versatile athlete, giving them good preparation for ultimately training for one sport at a more appropriate age, but it also allows them the two months of rest needed each year, at a minimum from a single sport.
However, travel ball can easily convince your ten-year-old to commit to a single sport and compete year-round, to have a chance at being a professional athlete. One thing I advise people to remember is that to attract the best talent, the coach must be able to win games. That coach will be making decisions as to what is best for the team, not your child.
I recommend a child to continue to play a variety of sports until they are in the last year or so of high school. There are numerous examples of professional athletes who not long played more than one sport as a professional athlete but also did not commit to a single sport until their junior or senior year in high school.
So what can a parent do to ensure a child does not injure themselves to the point they are unable to compete in college or as a professional athlete? Dr. James Andrews, a well-known orthopedic surgeon who has treated athletes of all ages for many years, likens these concerns to an epidemic that is negatively impacting children. Dr. Andrews and the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine launched a program to decrease sports injuries in children. Known as STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention) the program focuses on addressing these issues. On its website, STOP (www.stopsportsinjuries.org) provides safety tips specific to twelve different sports.
However, much of these concerns could be alleviated if these basic recommendation are used:
Encourage your child to participate in more than one sport. Cross training helps develop growing bodies and reduce overuse injuries. It also helps prevent the mental fatigue which comes from playing a sport day in and day out for months or even years.
Do not allow your child to play in more than one league in a single season in the same sport. This requirement ensures a child does not do more pitching for example, than is allowed based on pitch count guidelines, for example.
Insists your child develop a routine of properly warming up, which includes plenty of stretching both before and after practices and games.
Frequently check in with your child to ensure they are not ignoring warning signs of overuse injuries such as pain, tenderness and swelling.
Let your child seek their own positions, giving them an opportunity to learn where they excel
I know this is a lot of information to digest! But at the end of the day, the best thing you can do for your child is to not get caught up in the drive to make sure they are the best, that you unknowingly sabotage their future as an athlete