Employee & Community Health

Youth Sports: More than cheers, championships

10/13/2015 by Dr. David Soma

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More than 35 million children in the U.S. participate in organized sports each year. Youth sports improve the strength, coordination and general health of young athletes while decreasing involvement in risky behaviors. It also gives them the opportunity to develop skills, practice performing as a team, make friends and have fun. 

Your Care Team wants to remind parents that there's more to youth sports than cheers and championships. 

Despite the many benefits, sports are the leading cause of injuries in children and adolescents. With kids starting sports as early as age five or six and continuing through high school and beyond, it's no surprise that more than half of sports injuries are related to overtraining and abuse. 

The amount of training and pressure on young athletes to perform is on the rise. "If a child excels in a sport, it's tempting for parents and coaches to have them specialize in that sport and participate in it year round with the hope of success and even scholarships," says Dr. David Soma, Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. "Repetitive throwing, running, jumping or other activities puts significant stress on a growing skeleton. This sports specialization can contribute to more severe overuse injuries, as well as burn-out and social isolation." 

To ensure the safety of young athletes and allow them the opportunity to gain all the benefits sports have to offer, there are three things parents, coaches and other important adults can do: 

Make sure your child is having fun. Parents and coaches need to honestly ask themselves if the child really cares what the score is, how long they practice or what they look like in a uniform. When speaking with older athletes, they don't remember the scores of the games they played, but they do remember the comradery and connections they experienced. Scoring points or winning a championship can be memorable, but it's more important that your child approaches the game with a positive attitude, no matter who wins or loses. 

For younger children, the emphasis shouldn't be on keeping score but understanding the rules of the game. As children enter their teen years, it's natural to have a stronger focus on winning and performance, but adults still need to underscore teamwork, sportsmanship and having a good time. 

Expose your child to a variety of sports. No parent can predict how their child will develop and grow. A sport may seem well suited for their young child's skills and interests, but may not be a good fit during the middle- or high-school years. Participating in multiple sports can diversify young athletes' skill sets while giving them options to decide which sport is most fun and successful for them. 

Build in time for breaks. It's just as important to allow for rest and recovery as it is to train. Multiple sports-medicine groups recommend that young athletes should build in at least one day of rest per week without sports and take a two- to three-month break from each sport every year. We want children to be active every day, but a variety of activities and movements is important, and rest allows for recovery. Lack of recovery time can increase risk of injury and also lead to overtraining and burn-out. 

The benefits of sports are immense, giving children skills, increased activity, improved overall health, and fun and enjoyment that will last a lifetime. However, it's up to parents, coaches and responsible adults to ensure that the child - no accolades and scholarships - remains the central focus of sports. 

Dr. David Soma is a pediatrician in Employee and Community Health's Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. He serves as the volunteer physician for the Mayo High School football team and provides education and guidance on medical issues for the Rochester Youth Football Association (RYFA).