Young Athletes with Adult Injuries

More and more children in the United States are specializing in a single sport at a young age and doctors are finding this is detrimental to their physical health. It seems that families are caught up in the idea that a child should focus on a single sport at a young age and dedicate many hours per week to it in order to best their peers. This theory is leading to the growth of overuse injuries in children even under the age of ten and these are not just minor injuries. The injuries doctors are seeing range from acute concussions to overuse injuries like stress fractures in the back, elbow-ligament injuries and damage to cartilage and the underlying bone. Many of these injuries sideline young children from activity for one to six months. Experts are trying to get the message out that playing multiple sports is more beneficial to a child’s physical health, it also limits burnout and creates overall better athletes. Doctors recommend that specializing in a single sport not start until the onset of puberty and that children limit their participation in sports per week to no more hours than their age. It is also recommended that children take at least two to three months away from a single sport yearly and have two weeks or more off between seasons. Free play is also to be encouraged because it teaches children to recognize if they do get tired, or hurt or just want to stop playing. Organized sports don’t give children the latitude to make these decisions and develop the ability to listen to their bodies.

Below are some guidelines for sports participation developed by the Scripps Center:

Ages 2 to 5 – The brain’s vision centers are not fully developed so children still have trouble catching, throwing and hitting. This makes T ball a good entry sport, as well as, free play to develop hopping, skipping and jumping.

Ages 6 to 9 – Significant developement occurs in visual and balance skills. Most activities at basic levels are good including soccer and swimming.

Ages 10 to 12 – Balance, strength and visual judgment improve making it easier for children to play sports that require memory strategy and fast decision-making like football, tennis or baseball.

Puberty – Rapid physical growth can reduce balance and body control but improve performance in aerobic sports activities.

Mid to late teens – Endurance and strength training can improve aerobic and strength performance but heavy weights should be avoided until the skeleton fully matures.

As a nation that loves sports, it is only natural families wish to see their children be physically active and form good exercise habits. However, don’t forget that young children need free play not only to develop healthy bodies but also creative thinking skills. Think twice before your young child commits to one sport for many hours per week. After all being healthy includes learning to have a balanced lifestyle.

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