In a recent interview with Dr. James Andrews, a world renowned orthopedic surgeon, he stated that the major problem with youth sports is specialization and lack of off season or down time. Click here to read article: Dr. James Andrews article
As a physical therapist who works with athletes and parents of athletes, I am frequently asked about kids and sports. Questions about practice schedules, dangers within the sport, or extra training, usually stem from a parent or athlete that wants to keep playing and do more. And therein lies the problem…
Specialization refers to an athlete participating in a sport exclusively. Playing or training for soccer, volleyball, baseball or any sport on a year-round schedule without significant rest time (ie 1-2 months of no organized games or practices) sets the stage for the athlete to become too specialized in that sport. In turn, this can lead to overuse injuries, repetitive motion injuries, joint problems from performing the same movements or patterns over and over, and a problem that many of us don’t consider— burnout. The analogy I give my patients is that of an old record. In the old days, we had vinyl records, and when you played your vinyl record over and over listening to your favorite song, it didn’t take too long for it to sound scratchy, or noisy or for the record to wear out and skip. This is what happens to athletes’ bodies when they do too much of the same thing over, and over again in practice, combined with games, added onto personal training/coaching sessions, and off-season camps. As a physical therapist I should not be treating a 10-18 year old athlete for an overuse injury—the record should not be worn out.
With many of our kids participating on school teams, club teams, off-season practices, and training camps there is little to no down time. This used to be the beauty of the classic 3-sport athlete: football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring. Summer was summer with no specifically organized sport. This model has now shifted to a year-round commitment fueled by what others are doing, or emulating a pro athlete, and programs that are pushing harder. These young, developing bodies need rest and down time. Taking periods of time off from the sport to do something else is as important for a growing body as it is for a growing mind. This doesn’t mean the athlete sits on the couch and plays X-box all day, but rather plays something else or something completely for fun. Remember playing as a kid? No uniform, no referee, no clock, no coach, just playing.
I think we are headed for a cultural change in youth sports this country. The shift in the near future will be to go back to the 3-sport or multisport athlete, and get rid of this year-round model of same sport participation and training. I tell my patients that you should strive to be an athlete who plays……………………. basketball, soccer, baseball, volleyball, etc. Not just a soccer player or volleyball player.
Gregg Fuhrman, MPT, CFMT, OCS is a physical therapist at the Pewaukee Body Mechanics clinic. For more information, email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit our clinic website at www.bmechanics.com and our Facebook Page.