Preventing Injury and Promoting Success in the Young Athlete by Beth Maynor
According to Fox Sports, if a famous athlete gets hurt these days three words are likely to follow: Dr. James Andrews. I recently had the privilege of attending a course with Dr. James Andrews, the premier orthopedic surgeon in the world of sports medicine. He has operated on the likes of Roger Clemens, Drew Brees, Bo Jackson, Troy Aikman and Jack Nicklaus. In 2010 he was the only doctor to be named one of the top 40 most powerful people in the NFL by Sports Illustrated. As a physical therapist with an interest in sports injuries, I was thrilled to be in the presence of a true legend in our field. Andrews spoke of the staggering statistics of youth sports injuries and how rapidly they have increased. As stated in his book, Any Given Monday, every year between 3 and 5 million children under the age of 14 seek treatment for injuries incurred during sports participation. He has also seen a dramatic rise in the number of teens he sees in the operating room since the year 2000. These injuries can have both short term and long term effects on a child’s ability to compete at a high level in the future. Andrews created the STOP Sports Injuries Campaign as a result of the decreasing age of his patients. I would highly recommend any coach, parent or player to check out this website for information on preventing sports specific injuries.
When asked about the best advice he could give parents and coaches in a 2014 Fox Sports interview he states: “The main thing parents need to know is let kids be kids. Let them play multiple sports. The big problem we are seeing with today’s youth sports is two words - specialization and professionalism. Specialization means playing one sport year round and never having time for recovery. The body needs three to four months off each year from a specific sport to recover. Pro athletes do that, but not our kids. They need at least three months where they’re not throwing a baseball or kicking a soccer ball or whatever. Professionalism means these young kids are being trained like pro athletes, and their bodies are too vulnerable to take that kind of heavy handed training. Parents think they are doing the best they can to get their kids a scholarship or whatever, but what they’re really doing is burning them out and causing injuries.”
Having the opportunity to speak with Dr. Andrews one on one and glean from his experience was enlightening. In my own practice I have seen a growing number of these patients, most in the specific area of upper extremity overuse tennis injuries. I asked him for advice on how to address these issues with the parents and he shook his head and said, “I sit down with these parents and they sometimes still don’t get it, but it’s the grandparents who will listen to me“. One of the tips he gave that I incorporate with my patients is to have the parents tell me the exact practice schedule and hours the child is putting in over the course of a week/month /year. We discuss how we can make changes to incorporate rest and cross training.
As a parent, it can be a daunting task to navigate the correct course for your child in a culture that has adopted early specialization and professionalism as the norm in youth sports. It is a dynamic balance that is difficult to achieve. Ideally, at least two months of rest is needed from a specific sport to allow proper recovery. This is a great time to try another sport that will develop different muscles and skills while preventing burnout. Multi-sport athletes have been shown to demonstrate greater athleticism, fewer injuries, less burnout and an increased ability to handle the pressure situations in competition. Help your child find a program that trains their growing bodies appropriately. The immature athlete can not handle the same demands placed on a 25 year old professional without breaking down. Encourage your child to play for the love of the game and experience the intrinsic value of playing a sport.
Keep your focus on the end of the story and what traits you would like your child to embody when their sport is over. As a former Division 1 tennis player, I recently brought this topic up to my former teammates who are also in the process of parenting and coaching young athletes now. We were fortunate enough to achieve our dream of playing collegiate sports and yet it did eventually come to an end. Leaving tennis behind, we had to function in a world without it after devoting so much time, focus and energy towards achieving our goal. We agreed we wanted to instill in our children the tools to transition into the world using the life skills we learned through playing a sport.
Another concept I challenge myself with is to always come back to the well-being of the child. It is so easy to analyze what is needed for success of a sport and how to work that plan without remembering what is best for each child’s growth and development. A good mindset is to be prepared to walk away from a sport if you see it is not contributing to the child’s well-being regardless of the hours and money spent on it.
Sports are crucial in developing physical and emotional health in our youth. They provide valuable health benefits as well as developing self esteem. As youth sport injuries and burnout are reaching epidemic levels, our goal is to keep our young athletes injury free in order to achieve their highest level of success. The benefits of playing safe and without overuse will give our youth the greatest potential of reaching their goal.
Beth Maynor, PT, MHS -East Cooper Outpatient Rehabilitation Center