Clifton Page, MD, is board-certified in family and sports medicine and a member of the Inova Sports Medicine team. He has a special interest in non-surgical treatment of sports injuries, regenerative medicine and sports injury prevention.
It’s always better to prevent sports injuries than to treat them after the fact. To help protect youth athletes, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) recently released a statement of recommendations to reduce the risk of sports injuries in youth athletes.
The recommendations break down into two main themes: Young athletes shouldn’t specialize in a single sport too soon, and they should give their bodies enough time to rest and recover.
As someone who specializes in treating sports injuries, I think it’s important for young athletes, their parents and their coaches to be familiar with these recommendations — and to understand why they are so important.
Youth Sports & Specialization
NATA recommends that young athletes play a variety of sports instead of just focusing on one. Unfortunately, my colleagues and I see kids specializing in a single sport at younger and younger ages.
That’s a problem for a number of reasons. When playing one sport, you put stress on the same parts of your body, over and over. That increases the risk of injury. At our clinic, we’ve seen an increase in these types of “overuse” injuries, such as shoulder and elbow injuries in kids who play throwing sports such as baseball.
Playing multiple sports has other positive outcomes. Cross-training helps kids improve reaction time and coordination, making them better athletes overall. And at 8 or 10 or 12, you don’t know exactly how a child’s body will develop — and which sport he or she might be best designed for. If they specialize in baseball before they even reach middle school, they might never know if they would have been a great tennis or basketball player.
Rest and Recovery for Growing Athletes
Rest and recovery time are important for any athlete, but especially for one who is still growing. The NATA statement makes several recommendations about how long and how hard youth athletes should play:
- Don’t play a single sport more than 8 months of the year.
- Only play as many hours per week as your age. A 12-year-old shouldn’t engage in a sport more than 12 hours a week, for example.
- Take at least 2 days off each week for your body to rest.
- Take time off from sports at the end of each season.
Just like specializing too soon, failing to rest and recover increases the risk of getting hurt. That can alter a child’s body mechanics, affecting how well they’ll play in the future. When kids take time for their bodies to recover, they’re setting themselves up for long-term success.
Sports Injury Prevention: The Long Game
It’s hard for kids to see the long game, especially when they love their sport and dream of the big leagues. That’s why it’s important for parents and coaches to help make sure kids aren’t pigeonholing themselves too soon, and that they take enough breaks during the week and throughout the year.
The message is catching on. In the NBA, top players have begun talking about “load management” — sitting out games, even when they’re not injured, to let their bodies recover and reduce the risk of injury. Recently, Lakers star LeBron James said he’d like to see youth leagues take load management more seriously to protect young players.
So go ahead and drop LeBron’s name when you’re explaining all of this to your young sports fanatic. Your future athlete will be glad you did.
Injured? Inova Sports Medicine’s team of experts will develop your personalized plan to get you back in the game. Request an appointment today or call 703-970-6464.