Youth Sports: A “How To” Guide on Keeping Your Athlete on the Field and Enjoying the Sport – Part 1
This Youth Sports Article was Written By Request Physical Therapy
Whether it be as a hobby, form of entertainment, after school activity or profession it’s no secret that sports are an integral part of American society. As a society, we make sure that our youth know that this is the case. It has been estimated that there are anywhere between 30 to 45 MILLION youth athletes (ages 6 to 18) participating in some form of athletics in America each year . To put that into perspective there are currently 28.5 million people living in Texas, meaning that (assuming they had a good strategy) there are enough youth athletes in America to invade and take over the state of Texas without issue. This staggering number of athletes is a window into the obsession America has with sports. The benefits of sports and physical activity are undeniable, as are the risks and potential injuries associated with participation in sports.
This post will be the beginning of a three part series where we will look at how you (as parents) should address common issues in youth competitive sports with an emphasis on the occurrence of overuse injuries.
First, we will look at why youth sports are so important, and some associated injury risks..
The second post in this series will provide you with simple guidelines to follow while raising an athlete.
The third and final post of this series will give examples of common sports injuries that you should keep an eye out for.
The benefits of youth sports – why you should let your child play
Parents always strive to provide what’s best for their kids, and in doing so some parents may look at competitive youth sports. Unfortunately, many worried parents only see the potential risks of injury and immense time commitment that participating in sports requires. While these things can be the outcome of playing, there are also many benefits as well that are often overlooked.
Physical benefits of youth sports
Health and fitness is a 30 billion dollar industry in America, showing that our society puts a high premium on being healthy and physically fit. There is ample research on the physical effects of exercise, so much so that the World Health Organization has set recommended amounts of exercise that individuals should participate in each week. TABLE 1 summarizes some of the potential physical benefits.
Our culture’s fascination with the physical benefits of exercise can detract from the multitude of other effects exercise can also have. Participation in youth sports will of course give your child these physical benefits, but a systematic review done by the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity on the benefits of youth sports highlights many psychological and social benefits seen in youth participating in sports. These researchers looked at 30 studies, and their findings are summarized in a single infographic, which can be viewed by visiting this link. To summarize, the research (along with information gathered by others) proved that youth sports participation promotes things like a reduction in anxiety, a greater sense of belonging, increased self confidence and emotional control as well as greater social competence and an overall increase in overall life satisfaction
Reduced anxiety, stronger bones, higher social functioning and self esteem – these are all attributes that can be gained through youth sports. Any parent wary of sport participation should take these (and other) benefits into consideration when debating over whether or not to let their kid sign up for the local YMCA league.
The risks of youth sports – what you should be cautious of
All things have associated risks and competitive youth sports are no exception. Of the 1.35 million children ages six to nine that visit the emergency room annually one out of every five of them will do so due to a sports injury . Of course, this statistic excludes those injuries that didn’t see the emergency room, as well as the overuse injuries that crept up over time and the game injuries that athletes felt the need to “play through”. As a parent, it is your right to be concerned that your child is going to injure themselves through sport participation, but the good news is that once you know what to look for, you can keep an eye out for the signs and symptoms of potential injuries.
The second post in this series will look at specific guidelines on youth training as well as some symptoms to look for in your athlete, but today we will define the broad types of injuries and the risks associated with each.
Acute injuries are the injuries that most players are all too familiar with. These injuries are characterized by a sudden onset of pain brought on by a specific traumatic event. Examples of acute injuries include a kick to the shin, elbow to the face or sprained ankle or wrist.
Overuse injuries constitute 50% of injuries in youth sport and are defined as “micro traumatic damage to a bone, muscle, or tendon that has been subjected to repetitive stress without sufficient time to heal or undergo the natural reparative process”. These injuries are more tricky to diagnose as they can creep up on an athlete with little or no warning. Parents of youth athletes should be especially alert to these types of injuries because the athlete may not be able to cognitively associate pain and fatigue with an injury, leading to them worsening over time without a diagnosis.
Burnout and overtraining are extreme examples of what can happen if an athlete over trains (or is pushed to overtrain). Manifestations of burnout and overtraining can be physical but are also commonly psychological and can include a “series of psychological, physiologic and hormonal change that results in decreased sports performance”. Burnout can result in fatigue and overall lack of enthusiasm for sports.
Specialization in youth athletes
So sports sound great, right? You are excited to get your kid on the field, and are 100% sure they will play pro one day. Before you google the nearest elite baseball camp for toddlers, though, please be advised that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children do not specialize in any one sport until they reach puberty.. This recommendation is supported by research that found that athletes who “participate in a variety of sports and specialize only after reaching the age of puberty tend to be more consistent performers, have fewer injuries, adhere to sports and play longer than those who specialize early”.This last finding should appeal to those of you who are convinced that you’re raising the next D1 athlete. If you want them to play in college and beyond, it is in your best interest to allow your athlete to play a variety of sports and only specialize after puberty so that they have the necessary experience to excel.
Having a physical therapist as part of your team
It is also crucial to have a physical therapist you know and trust to rehabilitate injuries as they arise and to be preventatively treating your child. A physical therapist can help your child recognize problem areas such as strength and flexibility deficits that can lead to an injury down the line. A physical therapist can also provide early treatment strategies to make sure a minor injury does not turn into a more serious one. Behind every Olympian is a great physical therapist! Make sure you find one for your child today.
To learn more about preventing and treating sports injuries properly, use the BetterPT Physical Therapy Clinic Locator to find a physical therapy provider like ReQuest Physical Therapy or download the BetterPT app to keep yourself connected even 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.