Far gone are the days when children played games solely for the fun of it. Today’s pediatric and adolescents have much higher pressure placed on them by parents and society. In order to meet the expectations of today’s society, it has been much more prevalent to see the young single sport athlete. Although playing basketball year-round may have helped LeBron James become King James, not every child has the gift of genetics that he was given. Overuse, overtraining, and burnout in the younger athletic population has become a major issue in sports medicine today so let’s take a deeper look into it.
Within the past decade more sports have been added to the docket for children to become involve in including lacrosse, field hockey, rugby, and cheer and dance. According to a 2008 survey by the National Council of Youth Sports there were more than 44 million children participating in youth sports which is sure to have risen in the four to five years since. As previously mentioned the prevalence of single sport year-round adolescent athletes is increasing steadily and as this number increases so does the rate of overuse injuries. Resulting from overtraining is the occurrence of burnout, which could be psychological or physical.
Some parents have begun to believe that having their child specialize in one sport may lead to them becoming stars, earning a collegiate scholarship, or becoming a professional athlete. On the peer to peer level, more and more kids are beginning to see their friends specialize in one sport and would like to follow suit, and so the dominoes begin to fall. Here in lies the societal pressure to focus on one sport.
The largest concern with sport specialization is the occurrence of overuse injuries. Overuse injuries are, “microtraumatic damage to the bone, muscle, or tendon that has been subjected to repetitive stress without sufficient time to heal or undergo the natural reparitive process.”1 There are numerous reasons why overuse injuries are much more serious in the pediatric realm than in the adult population. Take the repetitive nature of the long distance runner, apply the repetitive forces of running to the tibia of the adolescent athlete and stunted growth may be a result due to the compression of the epiphyseal region or growth plates of the bones. At a young age, the growing bones are unable to withstand as much force as their fully grown counterparts. Other examples include the arm of the young baseball pitcher from poor biomechanics and the lower back of the adolescent gymnasts from performing repetitive trunk hyperextension. Along with the predisposing factor of not physically being mature enough to withstand repetitive stresses, young athletes are also not mentally mature enough to understand what signs and symptoms are indicative of further injury.
Besides the physical demands placed on the adolescent athlete are the mental demands. Over the years of one sport participation 12 months out of the year it is no wonder why many young athletes begin to burnout. Burnout has been defined as a “series of psychological, physiologic, and hormonal changes that result in decrease in sports performance”. A major telling sign of burnout is a lack of enthusiasm about competition. Burnout needs to be considered a major side effect of overtraining as it may deter young athletes from growing and continuing to live a long and healthy lifestyle. In order to work towards avoiding burnout workouts should be kept interesting with age specific games and drills, adequate time should be given for breaks from structured sports, and young athletes should be taught to be in tune with their bodies and realize when to slow down.
The best solution in site to the issue of overuse injuries is the multisport athlete. Well-rounded multisport athletes have the highest chance of achieving lifelong fitness and further enjoyment of sports past their competitive years. By mixing an upper-body dominant sport such as baseball with one that places emphasis on other portions of the kinetic chain, the young athlete can greatly reduce their risk of obtaining an overuse injury and burnout. Although mixing two sports that focus on the same area of the body may still lead to these injuries, it will still yield a lower incidence than the athlete that performs one repetitive motion year round.
Due to the very low likelihood of becoming a professional athlete (0.2% to 0.5%), the ultimate goal of a young athlete should be to promote lifelong physical activity and health. Education of parents, coaches, and athletes must be implemented in America’s youth sports to address the issue of overuse issues. As adults it is always wise to take into consideration and focus on the child’s goals for guidance.
Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes
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