Youth Sports: A “How To” Guide on Keeping Your Athlete on the Field and Enjoying the Sport – Part 2
This Youth Sports Article was Written By Request Physical Therapy
Welcome to the second part of a three post series on how to safely raise your youth athlete. The last post introduced the benefits and risks of youth sports, types of sports injuries and relayed recommendations on sport specialization in youth athletes. Part two of this series will focus on avoiding the injuries discussed last time, and will provide examples on what forms of training are ok, how much time your child should spend training and things to watch out for as the parent of an athlete.
Is my child training too much? – Signs and symptoms of overuse injuries and overtraining
This section will focus on how to identify an overuse injury, omitting acute injuries because it is likely that if your player has a broken arm or something similarly sudden, they will tell you almost immediately.
Overuse injuries and “burnout”, or overtraining syndrome were both introduced in the first installment of this series. These topics should not be taken lightly, and it is imperative that you and your athlete both understand the signs that they may be developing an injury of this nature.
In general, the guidelines in TABLE 1 above should be followed in order to reduce the chance of overuse injury, overtraining and even burnout. Taking time away from specific sports during the week reduces the likelihood an overuse injury will develop. Taking a couple of months away from sports each year allows time for injuries to heal, the mind to refresh and allots time for the athlete to focus on non sport specific skills.
FIGURE 1 highlights the stages of overuse injuries. The most important thing to understand about overuse injuries is that the stages highlighted in the figure will only progress if nothing is changed in the training program. Identifying pain early can help prevent overuse injuries from getting worse and can make or break a season. As a parent, it is very important that you do not pressure your athlete to “play through” an injury as this will only exacerbate the problem. There is no specific amount of training that will lead to overuse injuries, but a safe bet is to follow the training guidelines outlined earlier to ensure your athlete does not develop overuse injuries.
In extreme cases of overtraining the athlete may develop what is known as “overtraining syndrome”. Some symptoms of this syndrome are outlined in FIGURE 2. Keep an eye out for these signs in your athlete as they may be indicative that their training regimen needs to change, or they could benefit from a few sessions with a fitness expert, be it either a trainer or a physical therapist
Methods for decreasing chance of injury
Now that you know what to keep an eye out for in terms of overuse and overtraining, we will discuss ways helpful in preventing these injuries from happening in the first place.
Acute injuries can happen while practicing or during competition. In the moment, it may seem like nothing could have been done to prevent a twisted ankle or broken arm but a study done by researchers in 2007 suggests otherwise. This study is a systematic review of 12 papers regarding the effectiveness of preventive strategies in adolescent sport participation. Of the many strategies analyzed in this paper, the study concludes that the most effective method injury prevention strategy involves programs specifically focused on “preseason conditioning, functional training, education, proprioceptive balance training and sport specific skills”.
The purpose of the proprioceptive aspect of these programs is to allow the athlete to become more aware of their own body, which will better equip them to avoid injuries on the field. The official stance of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) is that “A properly designed and supervised resistance training program can increase a young athlete’s resistance to sports related injuries”. Continuing programs including these factors throughout the playing season has been shown to decrease the number of ankle sprains in volleyball players and reduce the prevalence of ACL injuries in football players, according to this same research.
Taking a couple of months off each year to focus on non-sport specific skills plays into the programs discussed above, and is a great way to reduce the risk of overuse injuries.
Keep in mind that using these months to play in other sports will only decrease the chance of overuse injury if the other sport focuses on different body parts and motion patterns than the athlete’s specialized sport (for example: alternating between track and golf).
What type of training is the right type of training?
One common myth in youth sports is that certain types of training are unsafe for the growing body. While it is an understandable concern for parents to be worried about their children lifting heavy weights or doing long endurance work, many of these concerns are unfounded as long as people are careful when they practice or play.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) released a position statement paper on youth resistance training. In this paper the NSCA concluded that a properly designed and supervised resistance program is not only safe for youth but does indeed increase their muscular strength and can increase their sport performance .
Endurance events have also been found to be safe for children and adolescents as long as they are properly supervised.
The common theme here is, in general, if your athlete is being properly supervised by a coach or trainer that knows what they are doing, you probably do not have to worry about what they are doing at practice everyday. HOWEVER: if you ever feel that your child is not being supervised properly, or if you think they are being encouraged to ignore an injury, it is important that you step in and bring your child to a physical therapist. Every sports team should have a physical therapist that can facilitate proper communication between your athlete and their coach to increase recovery time and allow proper healing to occur. Behind every Olympian is a great physical therapist! Make sure you are setting your child up to succeed.
To learn more about preventing and treating sports injuries properly, use the BetterPT Physical Therapy Practice Locator to find a physical therapy provider like ReQuest Physical Therapy or download the BetterPT app to keep yourself connected on the go.
ReQuest Physical Therapy is a clinic that provides care to all who need it while recovering from an acute or chronic injury.Their sports injury recovery programs can be tailored to meet the needs of athletes of all ages, and are sure to satisfy patients and parents alike.