Youth Sports: Keeping Your Child’s Body and Mind Healthy

By Dr. Jay Rabinowitz; founder of Parker Pediatrics and Adolescents
Posted

The summer sports scene is upon us, and it is therefore a good time to remind parents about the dangers of early athletic burnout and overuse.

The ultimate goal of youth sports should be to promote lifelong physical activity and skills. Unfortunately, that goal often ends up as the parent’s goal of hoping their child will get a scholarship, become a professional athlete, or fulfill a parent’s unfulfilled childhood dream.

Parents may not realize it, but only 0.2 to 0.5% of high school athletes make it to the pros. Too many young athletes end up with either overuse injuries and/or burnout.

An overuse injury is micro traumatic damage due to repetitive stress without time to heal (over 50 percent of all injuries are due to this). The growing bones of a young athlete cannot handle the same stress as the mature bones of an adult.

Burnout, or over-training show as a series of psychological and hormonal changes that result in decreased sports performance. It may include muscle or joint pain, personality changes, fatigue, and lack of enthusiasm.

Burnout is a serious sequel of over-training, and should not be taken lightly.

To avoid both burnout and overuse, parents should heed the following recommendations:

1. Athletes should have 2 to 3 months off per year from their particular sport to allow healing and refresh the mind.

2. A maximum of 5 days per week should be spent in any particular sport.

3. An athlete should participate in only 1 (team) sport per season.

4. Beware of your athlete's participation in multi-game tournaments during a short period of time. These are run to make a profit, not for your child’s benefit.

5. Coaches and parents should be educated about proper nutrition, safety, and avoidance of over-training.

6. Be alert for burnout -- nonspecific muscle and joint pain, fatigue, or poor academic performance.

Another reminder, while on the subject of youth sports, is proper nutrition. Beware of energy drinks, filled with sugar, caffeine, or “natural” ingredients.

Although delivering energy, they also cause addiction, weight gain, sleep disorders, high blood pressure, irritability, and possible psychological problems.

Many countries even restrict these to children, but since ours does not (yet), parents need to supervise and educate their children about the side effects.

The best prescription for added energy is a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep. There are no safe shortcuts!