With Memorial Day just a week away, what are for me the best 6 weeks of the year–to July 4–are upon us. Children are now preparing for summer sports and we’ll even begin fall sports physicals soon. Let’s take a moment to recall some important principles.
30 million US children participate in organized sports annually. 1/3 will sustain injuries serious enough to require formal medical attention at an annual cost of $1.8 billion. There are important differences regarding youthful athletes that we should keep in mind:
- Large surface area to body mass ratio
- Larger head compared to body size
- Protective gear may be ill fitting
- Growing cartilage more injury prone
- Evolving motor skills
A few other considerations:
- Children are still growing
- Within competition groups the size, maturity, and ability level between participants can vary considerably
- Open growth plates (cartilaginous) are more injury susceptible
Adequate nutrition is essential:
- Calories–good meals before training or competitions
- Protein–essential for muscle growth and recovery
- Vitamin D and Calcium–one study of forearm fractures showed that almost 50% of those injured were clinically vitamin D deficient; 1/2 of them required surgery. Get the kids out in the sun at least a bit, especially Black children in winter months (more melanin means less sunshine metabolized vitamin D conversion in the skin). Note this is particularly important for girls
- Hydration–important to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after athletic participation, especially on hot days
Suggestions for competition readiness:
- Be in good condition–GET YOUR SPORTS PHYSICAL.
- Wear all appropriate safety gear
- Know how to use all equipment and be sure that gear is properly tuned and in working order
- Warm up beforeheand
- Proper rest–teens need > 8 hours of sleep/night.
- Never play through pain. This cliche of “pain is weakness leaving the body” is dangerous nonsense. Pain is your body telling you something is wrong. Listen!
It is also essential for responsible adults to create the proper atmosphere:
- Proper coaching–Coaches should have knowledge of the sports commensurate with the level of competition (college varsity and summer rec league obviously not the same). It should ALWAYS be fun. Youth sports can teach a lot about life. But it is NOT life–it is recreation. I cannot overstate how I abhor the hyper-intense “winning is the only thing” or “failure is not an option” mentality. It is both physically and psychically destructive. People fail–it happens all the time; the world doesn’t come to an end and learning to cope with it builds character at least as much as winning. And losing is a thing too. Nobody always wins. Most of us know at least one person who feels that they can, must, or deserve to always win. Just read the newspapers! Mostly those are very unlikeable people. Who wants to cultivate that mentality?
- Proper officiating and respect for those performing that function to maximize physical safety and a sportsmanlike atmosphere
- Know the rules
Lastly, a few thoughts on avoiding overuse injury
- Max training in hours/week should not exceed the athlete’s age in years
- By middle school only one team and one organized competition/season
- I strongly urge young athletes to take one season completely off from all organized competition and one season to play a completely different sport
- If a child misses time due to illness or injury, 1 day of practice for every 2 days missed before return to competition
The percentage of people in a given age cohort who reach Olympic or major professional sports league competition is ridiculously, laughably small. Turning your family life or financial world upside down in pursuit of such an unlikely achievement is, overwhelmingly, a fool’s errand. If it happens, it happens. But mostly take youth sports for what it is. You and your children will likely be much happier and fulfilled that way.
Thanks for following.