50 games in a season. At the age of 8. Does that seem crazy to you? It does me! This may be an extreme but I know for a fact this is reality for some kids in sports at a very young age. So my question you is…Do you think there are health ramifications to this level of play at that age? Some say no because they are just kids. The science is starting to say yes because of the same reason…they are still kids.
Young bodies are designed to be active and it’s very healthy to be moving. There is no doubt about that. It’s just weather or not their body crosses the line of too much. Without knowing where that line is makes it tough as a parent and a coach. That’s where I wanted to try and shed some light on how to find that line and also what the ramifications are of crossing it for extended periods of time. We see these kids in our office with problems that are “old people” problems and many times they could have been prevented.
The first thing to know is what can happen. Here is a quick list of problems we see with young athletes under the age of 14 who have taken their body past the line of too much…
1. Shoulder Strain – Kids at these young ages have under-developed tendons and ligaments that hold things together. Because of this, the extra force from throwing, hanging from and repetitive impacts creates chronic inflammation which leads to pain and weakening of the tissue long-term.
2. Foot Problems – Things like fasciitis and fore-foot pain also develop from excessive amount of stress on feet from activity and also from improper footwear or gait. Many kids have not been taught proper mechanics for running, jumping etc from the start so this turns into chronic strain and inflammation of the connective tissue of the foot over time.
3. Back pain – Kids should never have back pain. If they do it’s a serious sign that mechanics in the spine are off and that activity levels have crossed the line to create inflammation. This can lead to other issues with muscles, bones and nerves and needs to be addressed right away.
4. Headaches – A young body that is not given proper rest and recovery from nutrition will eventually run into a wall. Many times one of the first signs is headaches. If the body can’t recover it starts to affect chemistry and stress levels in the brain resulting in headaches. Dehydration can lead to these headaches too if not properly replenishing.
5. Sleep problems – Some kids show sleep problems as a sign of not having enough rest and recovery. It may seem counter-intuitive but the body can get so depleted that sleep is actually a challenge.
These are just a few things that show up with kids that have excessive amounts of activity. There are many more and not enough time to go through each of them. The goal here is to open your eyes to what can happen to your child’s body if pushed to far with activity. Their bodies are not designed to do the same sport over and over all year long. It will always lead to problems. It’s the same reason we see so many kids having surgeries that use to be reserved for athletes only on the professional level. It used to be that only pros had done enough repetition that it would cause problems. Not you are seeing it with kids. It’s a problem and we all need to wake up to it.
The last thing I will say to this is that kids need to be kids. Being in a structured athletic environment all the time is not normal and will lead to burn-out. Kids bodies are designed for and need variety and so does their mind. That’s why kids use to build forts, wander through the woods, chase animals down, make up games with the neighbors and just be kids! They need this. The best coaches out there know this as well too. More camps, more clubs, more teams and more games will not mean a better kid and certainly not a better adult down the road.
This article is definitely not to make anyone wrong. It’s designed to help make people aware. Feel free to email me questions or comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.