Youth Sports: Better, Safer Athletes

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Back to school is just around the corner. And with the beginning of the school year comes football, fall softball/baseball, fall soccer, and a whole host of other youth sports!

Parents have been rightly concerned with youth sports in past years, and many parents have been at the forefront of making kids’ sports safer and more sustainable. Parents, coaches, and activists have literally changed the faces of many different youth sports; especially those sports that require/allow body contact such as (American) football, hockey, soccer, and basketball. We believe that many of these changes have enhanced the sports, and allowed for kids to play safer and better.

Even with recent changes, there are still ways that you can continue to protect your kids, especially as they head into high school sporting programs:

-Meet with a personal trainer. A lot of teens lift weights as part of their sports training regimen, but they may not have received proper instruction on HOW to handle these tools. High school coaches work very hard to give kids proper instruction, but given the size of teams, there isn’t always a lot of one on one training. We often see teens come into the gym who don’t know the safety basics of Olympic Lifting (lifting barbells, etc). Especially with free weights, there are some very important safety protocols to follow. Giving your teen a 1:1 session with a certified personal trainer will give them a solid foundation of safety knowledge that can carry them through their high school years and into adulthood.

-Play more than one sport. Kids who play more than one sport usually end up better athletes in the long run- there are multiple studies and articles surrounding this point. But we’ll just use every Seahawk fan’s favorite quarterback, Russell Wilson, as our example. In High School Wilson played (and did very well) on his HS Baseball, Basketball, AND Football teams. In college he aggravated coaches by insisting on playing two collegiate sports: baseball AND football. Now, as an adult, he’s one of just a handful of professional athletes to show up on rosters for two teams in completely different sports. Before signing with Seattle, Wilson even played for our own Tri-City Dust Devils (a former Colorado Rockies Affiliate.

Your kid may not be the next Russell Wilson, but there are lessons to be learned here that do apply to all athletes. Many of the skills your teen athlete works on in one sport translate to many sports. And coaches, physical therapists, and pediatricians will all tell you that kids need to develop in multiple areas, especially as their bodies are growing and changing. We’ll get more into that in our next point:

-Hold off on the specialization. Early specialization of youth athletes has become a serious concern in the health professions. The Journal of Athletic Training states that “50% of pediatric patients present to sports medicine clinics for chronic injuries.” (you can read that full report here) Doctors and physical therapists are seeing more serious overuse injuries in younger and younger children. High School Baseball players and competitive Swimmers are destroying their rotator cuffs, Soccer and Basketball players are tearing up their ankles and blowing out their ACL’s, Track and Field stars are experiencing stress fractures; kids are causing serious, long lasting damage to their bodies before those bodies are even finished growing. Not only is this of immediate concern (when you’re sitting in the ER or helping a child wearing a cast), but it’s heartbreaking to see kids’ dreams of college sports crushed before they even get a chance.

If your child wants to be a better athlete, throw away the “10,000 hour” rule. If they want to play year round sports, don’t make it all one discipline. Instead, you can sign them up for fall soccer, winter basketball, and spring baseball/softball, then encourage them to swim over the summer. Your child will benefit from the engagement of multiple teams, different coaching styles, and development of different muscle groups. Strong development of ALL muscle groups can help to protect your child from serious overuse injury.

-Lastly, focus on having fun. We know that not every day of sports practice is going to be a fun one, but a successful player needs to be fueled by a love of the sport they are practicing. If that love is truly gone (Mom and Dad will know this when they see it), then maybe it’s time to start looking at different sports or activities (playing multiple sports can help here too). Parents, if you start to notice kids complaining of recurring minor injuries, please get them checked out sooner than later. A quick trip to the pediatrician or physical therapist can save them agony later on.

Have fun and stay safe out there this fall!

We wish you good health,

~Columbia Basin Racquet Club

Photo Credit: Lee Balcom: Flickr

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