KIDS IN SPORTS: HOW YOUNG IS TOO YOUNG TO SPECIALIZE?
I have spoken on several occasions on the topic of kids in sports. How much and when? What can we do to avoid overuse injury?Training and overuse we see it commonly inourpractice.Speakingtoparentandcoachinggroups, I sharemymedicalopinionandexperiencethatkidsshould play multiple sports. Stay tuned, I’ll explain where I’m comingfrom.Ihavetwosons,bothofwhomweretalented athletically.Myoldestson,Boomer,seemedtobeanatural at virtually all sports – football, basketball baseball… you name it,hedid it. IstartedBoomeroffwithtennisatavery youngage. Ibelieve it’sagreatsporttoenhancehand-eye coordinationandmagnify learningpathwaysformovement. Especiallywhenthey’reareyoung.That’sthePT inme.He was good at it, getting better, and then – he decided he wantedanothersport.Aaaghright?Theregoestheplan! I saidwhynotboth,hesaidnotmebutthanks. It’scommon with children but sometimes we may not support it, I know I was bothered. Boomer’s buddies decided to play soccer so guess what he did? AYSO every Saturday plus practice. I learned to really love it. Then baseball, I was the kid’s coach there. He got good then 3 leagues and 2 teams. Sound familiar? He got better but here’s where stuff can begin to happen. As they improve that success cancausekidstobecomesiloedtooyoung intoonesport, potentiallyresulting inoveruse injuries.More leaguesmore innings more travel. How can early specialization become problematic? Boomerwentontotrydifferentsportsandexploredmany –but Ididnothavethesameexperiencewithmyyounger son,Mason. Itriedeverythingtogainathleticvariety–but all he wanted to do was play basketball. When kids play the same sport for 12months out of the year without any breaks(which isbecomingmoreandmorecommonwith offseason leagues), it isverycommonforthemtodevelop overuse injuries. I helped Mason through many injuries from youth to college. Kids do get beat up. An example I’ll use is the Tommy John procedure. This is a surgical procedure of the elbow that is necessary for overuse and instability injuries associated with throwing. The Tommy John procedure is growing at an alarming rate. Pitching at a young age and become specialized throwers early in sourcing the growth in this problem. Here’s the number I promisedyou.Overall incidence is4/100,000but inages15- 19 its22/100,000,astaggeringagespecific increasebased onmanyauthor’sopinion. Thisprocedureusedtoberare, butwiththepopularityofoffseason leagues, it isbecoming muchmorecommon.Don’tshootthemessenger! It’s just real numbers. That’s not 100,000 baseball players that’s people. Boomer is also a prime example of how overuse
can affect a child – yes, he hadmany sports but he could bring itfromthemound.Healsoneverhadanybreaks.He was a talented pitcher on 2 teams and 3 leagues by the time he was 12 years old. He developed shoulder laxity at a young age and still has shoulder issues to this day. That’s why inmy view offseason breaks are so important for a child. If something like that can happen to the son of aphysicaltherapist, itcanhappentoanyone’sson–even if you’rebeingcautious. Iwas,andnow Itryandhelpothers. Identifying solutions: Now, I’m not here to try and scare you. I’m here to try and provide some helpful solutions. I getposedthiscounterargumentallthetime:“Ican’tmake my kid stop playing his sport – he’s way too passionate about it.” To this I say – that’s fine! Respect that passion. Encourage that passion. Some kids simply will not want to try something new once they find something that they love–andthat’sokay.However,therehastobesomesort of spacer to limit their amount of overuse of the muscles and joints needed to play that sport. Think about the difference between basketball and baseball. That is exactly what happened with Mason. He found basketballandwas immediatelyhooked.Forkids likethis, it is important to find something different they can do in theiroffseasonthat iscomplementarybutfun.ForMason, itwasparticipating inahigh-leveltrainingprogramfroma youngage.Hecrushed it inhisperformanceprogram.For your child, depending on the sport, it may be something different–perhaps it’sayogaclassorconditioningprogram oranew, lessdemandinghobby intheoffseason.Whatever thecasemaybe, itshouldbesomethingthattheyenjoythat stillhelpsthemstay inshape–withoutover-stressingthe samemuscles.Trainingprogramsaregreatbecausethey help children avoid overuse injuries while simultaneously helpingthemfunctionatahigher level.Thiswillhelpwhen they return to their sport, as it will provide improvements with strength and movement. In addition, it will still allow themtodosomethingthey love intheoffseason.It isreally important to individualize the best offseason spacers for each child and their sport of choice. I have found that by replicating what I have learned with Mason into our own training programs at Fyzical El Paso, kids have grown exponentially in their sports. Everyone needs a break – especially children! An individualized offseason spacer can help them grow and improve in their sports upon returning. What will your child be doing next offseason? - Luis, Fyzical El Pasowww.fyzicalelpaso.com
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