Injury Prevention for the Throwing Athlete…Overuse Injuries in Young Athletes…Sport Specialization – Avoiding the Pitfalls of Too Much Time in One Sport…Concussions in Youth Sports…These are just a few of the talks that I have given over the past five years to parents and coaches of young athletes. As the manager of the sports therapy program at the Nemours Center for Sports Medicine, I have seen, firsthand, all of the problems that can accompany the increasingly high demands of youth sports.
I have always enjoyed the opportunity to speak with these groups about what they can do to try to reduce the chance of their little athlete becoming another statistic in the growing epidemic of injured youth athletes. Talking to parents is especially gratifying, and I would prepare by pouring over the ever-growing research being published on the causes of overuse injuries and what can be done to prevent them.
All of the recommendations seem so simple…limit your pitch count, don’t play on more than one team, take breaks throughout the year, and dozens of other prevention tips. The conclusion was always the same: Limit frequency and volume to reduce injuries.
But this was all before my son, Alex, started to play soccer and lacrosse.
Now I am not just a sports medicine provider, I’m also a sports parent.
I read the same research articles, and know the same facts, but look at the information with a different eye. I know what the recommendations are, but now see the difficulty in staying true to them.
I consider myself to be a very reasonable sports parent. My wife and I have no aspirations of my son getting an athletic scholarship or becoming a professional athlete. I really just want him to get outside and be active, learn some life lessons about teamwork, winning and losing, and hopefully enjoy sports the way that I always have. So far, he really seems to love playing, and we love to see him out on the field.
Alex is only 6 years old, and keeping this participation to a reasonable volume is already becoming challenging. At practices, there is talk of other kids playing two or three sports during the same season. Travel teams are available for the under 7 crowd too — tryouts and cuts included. Summer training camp flyers have shown up in our inboxes, promising high-intensity instruction and skill development.
The sports medicine provider in me had always seen these offerings for the very young athlete as being ridiculous. “Why would a 7-year-old need a travel team?” or “Summer soccer camp for 6-year-olds? What a waste of money…just go out and play.” But now, I understand the draw. If he loves playing lacrosse, I want to give him every chance to enjoy it — and that has meant looking into summer camp options. Additionally, his teammates have become his friends, and many of the parents have become our friends — the opportunity to extend the playing season also provides a chance to stay in touch and grow those relationships.
Each day, I gain better perspective on the challenges that now face the parent of a young athlete in the current sports world. I still don’t agree with the availability of year-round play in a single sport for young players. I still don’t agree with the number of hours that many young athletes now practice. And I still don’t agree with promoting playing on multiple teams during a season. These are consistently found to be the key culprits for the growing rate of overuse injuries in young athletes nationwide and worldwide. But these offerings now seem to be the norm, and I certainly do recognize how easy it is for a parent to have their young child in these programs.
After talking about it with my wife, we have decided not to jump into any lacrosse camps this summer and aren’t looking into any travel teams for soccer either … at least that’s the decision for this year.