How to help your kids get the most out of playing sports
Why are your kids playing sports?
Did you sign your child up for a team thinking this was the key to a college scholarship or a spot on a professional team? Perhaps. More commonly, though, parents introduce their children to sports to have fun, learn teamwork, develop coordination, get exercise and socialize. The goal should be to achieve these benefits while avoiding negative impacts on health, such as overuse injuries.
Keep your perspective on youth sports
At youth sports fields across the country you may see signs that say something like this:
Remember- These are kids.
This is a game.
The coaches are volunteers.
The officials are human.
Let’s use this as a reminder to keep some perspective on youth sports and why children are playing them.
Remember the benefits of youth sports
Participation in youth sports is beneficial to growth and development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least one hour of physical activity most days of the week in order to develop cardiovascular fitness, strength, bone formation and motor skills. Improved self-esteem and reduction in stress are psychological benefits of sport according to the Association for Applied Sport Psychology.
Athletes who show promise are encouraged to increase their time in training, move up to travel teams and play one sport year round. The expectation is that this level of commitment will be the means to continue on to participation at the collegiate level and perhaps beyond. A 2017 NCAA study shows approximately 6% of high school boys and 7% of high school girls move on to play at the NCAA level (excluding those who play ice hockey). Training may help to get a child to the next level, but only if they remain healthy and have the skill.
Be aware of the negative impacts on health
When coaches, parents and yes, even the athlete, begin to place increased emphasis on winning and reaching the next level in sport, there can be negative impacts on health. Increases in training often lead to increased stress, burnout and overuse injuries.
Overuse injuries are those caused by repetitive stresses to muscles, tendons, ligament and bones.
- The affected area does not have adequate time to heal and remodel between one training session and another.
- Muscle strength imbalances and limitations in flexibility.
- Poor mechanics or technique.
Different areas of the body are affected depending on the sport. Tendinitis of the knee and elbow are common in basketball and baseball players, respectively. Stress fractures and shin splints are other examples of overuse injuries.
Symptoms to look for:
- Persistent pain or swelling in a body part with no specific mechanism of injury
- Loss of motion
- Loss of function or strength
To reduce the risk of overuse injury, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends athletes play for only one team per season, take at least four consecutive weeks off per year, and one day off per week.
Stress and Burnout
Stress and burnout are common for athletes who put pressure on themselves or are pressured by parents and coaches to perform at their highest level at all times. When training consumes 20 or more hours per week, there is little time for socializing, homework, family and sleep.
Eliminate stress, burnout and overuse injury by encouraging your youth athlete to participate in multiple sports throughout the year and to take time to enjoy other activities!
Remember, above all, that this is a game. Youth sports are meant to be for fun, stress relief and promotion of a lifetime habit of fitness and health. If your child is fortunate to have the talent to get to the next level, let it happen but do what you can to avoid the negative consequences of overtraining.