We Should Treat Young Athletes Like Pro Athletes

One of the major difficulties my elite athletic patients are facing these days is repetitive stress injuries.  I don’t think of myself as an old guy, but “back-in-the-day” sports were seasonal.  Soccer was in the fall, hockey in the winter and baseball in the spring.  Summer was free to spend time on the beach swimming, biking or hiking in the mountains.  There is a reason that the NFL season is not year round.  The players wouldn’t survive.  To treat our kids differently is a recipe for injury and failure.

Now our young athletes are playing one or more sports year round, training without pause.  They are repetitively working the same muscles and joints day in and day out.  This pattern of intensity is also starting at a younger and younger age.  The “good” kids are being identified earlier and being singled out for more intense training. Be wary of the succeeding player, they will be flagged and pushed harder.  Be equally wary of the kid that has not matured as quickly as her peers, she may be left behind this season and won’t be able to “catch-up” when her body is ready to compete with her peers.  She might have been your best player.

I am a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon and I take care of these kids when they come to my office.  They are hurt and conflicted.  Sometime they are truly injured with stress fractures or severe tendinitis.  Sometimes they are just exhausted and in need of a medical excuse to rest.  These kids are driven to succeed.  They are pushing themselves to keep to the program.  They are pushed by their coaches to win.  They are pushed by their parents hoping for that golden scholarship.  For some the love of game is being lost.

Unfortunately I don’t have a solution.  I think this approach to youth athletics has become a beast bigger than me.  It will take many of us recognizing that these issues need to be addressed.  We need to look at fitness as a whole.  If we are going to push our pre-teens like our Pros then we need to really treat them like pros.  Off season need to be off season – a time for recovery and cross training.  The beauty of kids is that this recovery is much quicker in them than it is in adults.  They quickly recharge and are eager to get back.  One challenge lies in the power of peer involvement.  They won’t tolerate missing anything and this off season plan won’t work if the game continues without them.  Coaches and parents need to buy into this with conviction.  Ultimately our athletes will be healthier, mentally stronger and fitter during their key season.