According to Stanford Children’s Health, there are over 3.5 million children who sustain sports-related injuries every year. Add to that the notion that around 70% of kids who play organized youth sports quit by the time they turn 13, and it’s clear to see the red flags. Those who have a school-aged athlete can help them to avoid being injured and becoming burned out, leading to a longer love of and participation in sports.
“Many parents start out seeing how their child loves a particular sport, only to be surprised when they either walk away from it altogether or they end up with injuries,” explains Coach Sarah Walls, personal trainer and owner of SAPT Strength & Performance Training, Inc., who is also the strength and conditioning coach for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. “The good news is that by taking a proactive approach, this can largely be avoided. I’ve worked with many young athletes and have helped them to avoid injuries and hold onto that passion for the game.”
Research published in the journal Orthopedic Clinics of North America, estimates that 30 to 45 million children participate in organized sports each year. Along with the increase in the number of children participating in sports, there is an increase in the number of injuries that take place. They estimate that over half of all youth sports-related injuries each year are due to overuse, which is an injury that results from constant stress without enough recovery time.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, overuse injury is damage that happens to the bone, muscle, ligament, or tendon from repetitive stress without giving the body time to heal. They report that overuse injuries have four stages, which include pain after the activity, pain during the activity that does not restrict performance, pain during that activity that does restrict performance, and chronic, persistent pain even when at rest.
The other issue plaguing many young athletes is burnout, which is the mental changes that can affect performance. Signs of an athlete being burned out include having performance changes, lacking motivation to play the sport, no longer getting enjoyment out of playing it, and having emotional changes. Burnout can happen when an athlete is focusing too much one particular sport and not taking adequate breaks from it, as well as from the pressure to be too competitive.
Coach Walls has worked with countless young athletes, helping them to reduce their risks for injury, as well as to avoid burnout. Here are her tips that parents and coaches can use to help the young athletes in their lives avoid injury and burnout:
-Avoid playing only one sport. Being a multi-sport athlete will create a change in season, allow them to stay engaged without being bored, and help the body recover to avoid repetitive injuries.
-Listen to their feedback. If the child is under the age of 14-15, they could express consistent complaints of fatigue or disinterest, which means that they would need a break. For athletes over 15, it may be more an issue of adjusting to using recovery methods. But in either case, these are initial signs of an athlete who is becoming burnt out. This needs to be addressed so they can come back to the sport in a more refreshed way mentally and physically.
-Stress a healthy lifestyle. Encourage young athletes to get plenty of sleep; follow age-recommended guidelines for a pediatrician. Also, encourage healthy eating habits to help them feel better, recover faster, keep their mind fresh, etc.
-Keep it fun and enjoyable. Trying to de-emphasize competitiveness if they are feeling burnt out. Look at overall communication over the sport; shift the focus on being fun not as much competition.
-Focus more on strength. Engage in strength training to reduce risk of injury, increase recovery time, and come back to the sport stronger so they can be better and have more fun. A research study published in 2017 in the journal Sports Health reported that overuse injuries are preventable, and that muscular imbalances after accelerated growth periods predispose young athletes to overuse injuries. They recommend modifiable risk factors such as flexibility, strength, and training volume should be regularly monitored to help prevent the injuries.
-Pull back on pressure. External pressures the high school athletes can feel from parents, coaches, etc. about to go to college and play could decrease interest, which would lead to a burnout.
“Over the last generation or two there has been a big emphasis on raising star athletes,” added Coach Walls. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are some precautions and steps people should take so that it doesn’t lead to problems. You want your athlete to be happy with playing sports, reduce injury risks, and to play for years to come.”
Sarah Walls has over 15 years experience in coaching and personal training. Owner of SAPT Strength & Performance Training, Inc, founded in 2007, she offers coaching to develop athletes, adult programs, team training, and has an online coaching program. She is also the strength and conditioning coach for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, and has over eight years of experience working as an NCAA D1 strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer.
Located in Fairfax, Virginia, SAPT Strength & Performance Training, Inc. is a high-performance training club that specializes in helping to develop athletes of all ages. They offer athletic training programs for youth, college students, and amateurs. The company was founded in 2007 by Sarah Walls, a professional strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer with NCAA D1 experience, who is the strength and conditioning coach for the WNBA Washington Mystics team. To learn more, visit the site: www.saptstrength.com.