By Warren Potash
Youth sports participation over the past 20+ years has resulted in more sports injuries than ever before – not due to more female athletes playing sports. Obviously, this has caused the American Medical Association [AMA] take a hard look at what can be done to reverse this trend. The AMA issued a Position Paper in November 2013 that broadly reflects their concerns. This is a few of the points made:
* Sport specialization may be considered as intensive, year-round training in a single sport at the exclusion of other sports.
* There is concern that early sport specialization may increase rates of overuse injury and sport burnout…
* Diversified sports training during early and middle adolescence may be more effective in developing elite-level skills in the primary sport due to skill transfer.
Reference found here…..
These points are very important issues. What’s interesting is that I wrote They’re Not Boys – Safely Training the Adolescent Female Athlete  to provide quality information about the too high injury rate in female sports participation. The AMA’s Sports Medicine division almost two (2) years later came to identical recommendations. So, what can adults who are volunteer coaches learn from this valuable information?
Cross training, using the body in different ways, during early ages is best accomplished by having youngsters play more than one sport. I discourage real training to play sports at early ages and encourage youngsters to have FUN and performing movement patterns that lead to rhythm and coordination. Therefore, the one sport athlete should not be encouraged despite what is happening in youth sports today.
Even though burnout and overuse injuries do not have evidence-based research to prove out the recommendation about early sport specialization, it stands to reason that if the same muscle groups are used the same way over time – the possibility of injuries and burnout are greater; it’s common sense.
Elite-level skill development is just that. How many elite-level athletes are there who can demand the type of attention from college coaches? Not many!! About 4 million youngsters are in a pool from their youth sport days and less than one percent (1%) obtains the offers. So, for the vast majority 99%+, it’s far better to train to play sports after trying different sports. This allows each athlete the opportunity to decide in early adolescence whether they want to specialize in just one sport; i.e., the one (or two) sports they most enjoy.
Let’s be clear about the carrot and stick approach in youth sports today. Volunteer coaches tell athletes and parents that if you play with my team, you will gain more exposure from college coaches leading to a scholarship offer. While this has truth to the statement, the facts are that very few female athletes receive scholarships just based on their athletic ability.
Did you know that an athlete who has very good to excellent grades will get money from a D III school than an athlete without top grades? How can that be? D III doesn’t offer scholarships. Coaches are seeking “coachable” athletes and those who excel in time management for academics and sports, etc. The admissions departments often work with coaches to provide scholarship dollars to help these athletes matriculate at their schools.
Youth sports and adolescent sport participation is really life skills training that an individual realizes many years after their sport participation days are completed. Learning responsibility for their own actions and in team sports understanding how a group of athletes needs to work together for the common good helps young women mature into adulthood.
The emphasis needs to be on movement, fitness, sport, and life skills training. A leading trainer of professional, elite athletes puts it this way: “Based on the statistics, we have failed in our physical education and physical fitness programs for youth.” (SkillFit – A Blueprint for Building Physical Skills, Youth Edition. Kent Johnston; 2013)
Make certain you understand why your child(ren) is playing sports and make sure that sport participation provides opportunities for FUN and fitness first – not winning from an early age that can be detrimental to long term success. Youngsters need a program where they have FUN, develop movement patterns and sport skills that are safe and age-appropriate so they are minimizing their risk for injury and becoming the best student-athlete each can be.
– Warren J. Potash, Specialist in Exercise Therapy and Sports Nutrition and Sports Performance Coach Author: They’re Not Boys – Safely Training the Adolescent Female Athlete (2012) and co-author Your Lower Back (1993)