Feast or famine.
That appears to be the unfortunate state we’ve reached with our kids’ health, fitness and athletic participation.
If it’s not local public school administrators slashing the budgets of physical education programs (which I wrote about in this space last month), it’s an alarming increase in the number of serious overuse injuries being suffered by youngsters who participate in competitive sports.
The latter problem has reached the point at which famed Birmingham, Ala., orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews recently deemed it an “epidemic.”
In fact, Andrews is so concerned about the trend that, earlier this year in his capacity as president of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM), he spearheaded the introduction of a nationwide campaign – called STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention).
The goal of STOP is simple: reduce childhood overuse athletic injuries (for more information, visit stopsportsinjuries.org).
A veritable “who’s who” of the sports world – from Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal to Tom Brady and Jack Nicklaus – have signed on as STOP spokespeople.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 30 million children, adolescents and teens participate in youth sports in the United States. This number represents an increase in the last decade. But along with this increased participation have come some distressing statistics:
* Of the estimated 2 million annual injuries, nearly half, says Safe Kids USA, were of the overuse variety.
* Along those same lines, the CDC says that more than half of all childhood sports injuries are preventable.
* Since 2000, according to the AOSSM, shoulder, elbow and arm injuries in youth baseball and softball players has increased by 500 percent.
So why have so many promising young athletes been falling victim to the kinds of repetitive-stress injuries that were virtually unheard-of when we were growing up?
Two dirty words: sport specialization.
Apparently, the multi-sport youth athlete has gone the way of the pay telephone.
As orthopedic surgeon Andrews told Sports Illustrated earlier this month, “You just have this enormous pressure nowadays on kids to play that one sport year-round.” (Presumably, college athletic scholarships are riding on it.)
This is disheartening news, indeed. It’s also a real shame because, as one who grew up playing all sports competitively, I can say that the physical, mental and emotional skills gleaned from competing in one sport transfer easily to others.
For example, running cross-country improved your conditioning before basketball season; footwork drills from basketball made you quicker on the tennis court; the mental chess game on the tennis court would get replicated when you stepped into the batter’s box; playing team sports taught cooperation and sacrifice; playing individual sports taught resilience and self-reliance.
Budding young athletes need to be exposed to as many sports as possible, for two reasons:
1) to develop an assortment of skills, and
2) to protect their still-developing muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones from being overtaxed by any one single activity.
Even on the infinitesimal chance that your child is that rarest of the rare who has collegiate or professional potential, there’s plenty of time until he or she truly needs to become singularly focused.
Encourage – insist, if necessary – that your kids play multiple sports because, when they focus exclusively on just one, it’s not play anymore.
Hi Coach Tony,
Nice peace. The more important question here deals with when today’s athletes are specialization in sports. It is not necessarily the specialization in itself that is as bad as at what ages they are specializing – which is very young now-a-days, to young. It is long before kids have developed physically and/or had a chance to really enjoy sports and build a love for them.
I liken this to kids verbally committing to play college sports when they are in, say, 7th or 8th grade. They can’t drive a car, started picking out their own clothes not that long ago, and are working on learning about whom they are as a person. Picking out a college – nope, not ready. And this is aside from the increased risk of injury that you so eloquently point out.
Much of what you discuss in your post deals with keeping an athlete, a person, well rounded in their development – this is a good thing. In addition, it is important to make sure that any athletic program where conditioning is a part of their practice has it set up with strong considerations to function and injury prevention.
There does need to be some semblance of balance here though. Absolutes are usually not a good thing, meaning NEVER specializing in a sport is not necessarily where the focus should be but when it is safe to do so, if at all.
I encourage you, and others, to stop by “The Athlete’s Sports Experience: Making a Difference” at ChicagoNow.com where I discuss sports specialization as well in my three part series: “Specialization in Youth Sports, Good or Bad?”
I will give you the address to Part I, you can follow the links from there.
Chicago is representin’!!!!
I’d love for you to listen to my radio show on Sunday mornings at 8 am Chicago time. Go to http://www.wfasam.com and let me know what you think.
Please come back and contribute often.
I normally don’t allow for folks to promote themselves on my blog but you seem to have a level head on your shoulders.
No problem coach. Plan on listening on Sunday to see what it’s all about!!!
Sent you a reply by email Tuesday, hope you got it.
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