In today’s thinking if something is good then more of it is better. While that may make sense on the surface, in the world of athletics it can be problematic. Carry that thinking over for a moment to the world of youth athletics. It is not uncommon to witness youth athletes who are pushed to excel at the cost of their long term wellness, while others are hardly encouraged to achieve; we have trended towards opposite ends of the spectrum where youth sports are concerned. Gone are the days when kids simply play for fun while broadly developing their athletic abilities. Popular wisdom favors specialization, which is probably a consequence of applying thinking in the professional ranks to the amateur ranks and below –again this is totally logical but there are other costs that are not so easily seen.
While specialization affords serious athletes the opportunity to focus their efforts on improving their abilities and skills for a particular discipline, specialization can lead to other problems that many people don’t understand. A high degree of specialization that results in training the same movement patterns repeatedly can lead to overuse injuries such as jumpers knee, patelofemural, tennis elbow or could even lead to over training which is a physical condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of an individual’s exercise exceeds their capacity to recover. For a professional athlete who has a team of experts around them that aid their recovery or help them prevent or manage overuse symptoms, this problem can be mitigated. However the average weekend warrior or child athlete won’t necessarily have access to such expertise or resources. There is value to giving a young athlete enough time off from a particular sport in order to prevent patterns of repeated movement that may cause injuries from overuse. This sort of recovery time has typically been inherent in youth athletics because kids tended to participate in multiple organized sports or simply played different unorganized sports in their neighborhoods. Another way to approach the subject is cross-training, where an athlete will do strength/speed workouts or even participate in a non primary sport. For example if the athletes main sport is baseball they may choose to do soccer, basketball, football etc…. during a down time for baseball. Cross-training is great because it keeps the child active while introducing new patterns of movement that can complement their primary sport and prevent over use by introducing new movement patterns that gives the athlete a break from constantly moving in the same patterns repeatedly.
Repetitive overhand throwing motions can cause rotator cuff damage from athlete such as baseball pitchers or quarterbacks , knee pain can be caused by a tight IT band, or weakness in quadriceps or hamstring. Pain can also occur with athletes who lack mobility but more importantly athletes who repeatedly perform the same movements as a result of specialization without taking proper time to recover. Other problems areas of pain are in the front of the hip more commonly known as the Hip Flexor. This pain is typically caused from sitting too long coupled with long periods of inactivity. A big problem area that is common in basketball players are ankle issues which is typically caused by unstable muscles around the ankle. Most of these injuries believe it or not are preventable.
The natural state of the human body is to be without pain. Muscles become sore and joints may become stiff from activity but so long as there is no particular trauma or existing injury, the body won’t hurt! Yes, we tend to be the cause of much of our own discomfort. Think of the body as a system with a high degree of mobility, stability, and symmetry; when we experience pain not caused by trauma, that pain can usually be attributed to an issue with one of those three components within the system. A mobility problem is someone with little to no flexibility in a certain area which prevents them from moving through a full range of motion (there are other causes that lead to mobility problems that we will deal with in a later post). A lack of stability are typically joints that slack and cannot produce a foundation for the body part it supports, a symmetry problem is typically a strength or muscular imbalance where one side tends to do more work than the other; these are just some of the injuries/symptoms we work on with our athletes. Our focus is often to get everyone to a pain free state before progressing to more intermediate or elite training. If we can get clients to a pain free state we can then progress them to their next level. We address areas of weakness with individuals that might cause them pain then we develop a plan of action through a program tailored to their specific needs that will take them to the next level of performance.
Whether your motivation as a parent is to encourage your child to achieve an elite level, or simply want to support an active lifestyle it is important to remember that some time off is warranted. And integrating opportunities for cross-training not only will help prevent overuse injuries, but it can also go a long way to ensuring that your child does not burn out from their primary sport –since their mental health is also an important factor in helping them achieve their goals. Therefore while it is important to have a particular focus, it is also just as important to encourage their involvement in activities that require complementary movement patterns to their primary activity/sport of focus, while helping them strengthen weaknesses such as the glutes , ankle, hamstring, and posterior chain of the shoulder which will go a long way in helping your young athlete prevent injuries that may not necessarily display itself now but will likely creep in as they become older. Otherwise we will develop a segment of adults who are chronically injured because of compounded problems from movement patterns that could have been prevented over the years.