Young athletes are not small adults warns Sportsmed.SA
Parents, teachers and health experts are constantly reminding children of all ages to unplug their technology and get active.
This is good advice, but it also leads to questions about how much activity is really necessary to maintain health and how much is too much for the younger person?
SPORTSMED•SA Orthopaedic Surgeon and Chief Medical Offer to Sturt Football Club. Dr David Martin said a national survey carried out as part of the 2007 National Physical Activity for Children guidelines’ development found that a reasonably high proportion of Australian children participate in sport – around two-thirds of Australian girls and three-quarters of boys.
Dr David Martin said it’s estimated that nearly half of all sports-related injuries in children and adolescents are caused by over-use. It is unclear whether this is a result of poor coaching, inadequate preparation, increased frequency and intensity of training or simply a consequence of changing lifestyles, where children are less able to enjoy free play.
“My concern, shared by several other SPORTSMED•SA practitioners including sport doctors, surgeons and physios, is that the number of hours kids are spending in sports training, including early pre-season trainings has been growing for a long time,’’ he said.
“We’re seeing more and more young athletes for chronic and serious injury like cruciate ligament tears, shoulder dislocations, stress fractures and back injuries. Most of these come from football, netball, soccer and basketball.
“A lot of kids end up playing summer sport and winter sport for school and for club and there’s a lot of this training during the week and trial games. Then you have young kids at the top level of sport they do an extra half a dozen sessions a week for state and other representative teams.’’
Dr Martin said year-round training in multiple events is also becoming more common, in an attempt to improve the young athlete’s performance in their chosen sport. But while it’s important for young people to try a variety of sports and not specialise in one too early, children also need time to recover – physically and mentally.
In recent years specialists at South Australia’s number one private hospital SPORTSMED•SA have noted a concerning trend and are treating an increasing number of children with sport-related injuries, including over training injuries.
“I know of U15s who are being flogged during footy training from as early as November – there’s no benefit to their overall sporting development and performance. Ninety-nine per cent of kids play sport because they enjoy it, they have fun and they like being with their mates.
“All this extra hard training makes no significant difference. When you talk about making it to elite level, the really good ones will make it anyway.
“Parents and coaches need to speak to each other and make sure that safe practises are being adhered to or you will have kids breaking down now and being prone to degenerative disease later in life.’’
It’s important to accept that young athletes are not small adults, he said.
There is also considerable variability in both physical and psychological maturation in young athletes of the same age. So the intensity, duration and frequency of training cannot be the same for all young athletes. This places greater emphasis on the coach and parents to be aware of the signs of over-training and burn-out and to intervene when appropriate.
“Bottom-line, the ultimate goal of sport is to promote physical activity and develop physical and social skills in the young athlete,’’ Dr Martin said.
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