The intense and repetitive training required at the highest levels of sport make overuse injuries almost unavoidable for Olympians and professional athletes.
Sadly these serious injuries are also becoming the norm for much younger athletes. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In a recent article, Dr. Dwight Chapin responds to a question from the mom of a teenage hockey player and explains the cause of overuse injuries in young athletes:
Kids who specialize in one sport at a young age and play it year-round train harder and longer than other young athletes who play a mix of sports and take seasonal breaks. Improved skills are often achieved through repetition and it’s this repetition that may place a young athlete at risk of injury.
Chapin’s suggestion to prevent such injuries in your kids can be summarized by these 3 simple rules (download a PDF poster version of this list for your fridge):
1. Promote short-term recovery by having kids:
- stretch before and after training
- engage in a proper cool-down period after training
- eat a meal that contains both protein and carbohydrates within the hour after training
- have a proper rest period following training
2. Promote long-term recovery by having kids:
- play one sport no more than 5 times a week
- take 2 to 3 months “off” from a particular sport to heal the body and recharge the mind
3. Promote multi-sport
- Kids who play multiple sports have fewer injuries, and play longer and at higher levels than kids who specialize in one sport before puberty
Editor’s note: While teenage athletes can generally tolerate structured practice and training in one sport 5 times per week, it’s important to note that younger children generally cannot. The physical, mental, and emotional capacities of an 8-year-old, for example, are very different from those of a 14-year-old. Read about the Long-Term Athlete Development model to learn more.