USA TODAY High School Sports and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association have partnered on a monthly column to address injuries, prevention and related issues to help schools, coaches and student-athletes. Here is the latest column from Scott Sailor, the president of NATA.
It is always rewarding to watch a young athlete participate in a sport that he or she truly enjoys. From teamwork and commitment to sportsmanship – the benefits can be far reaching. However, if the athlete specializes too early, the results can also lead to injury or even burnout. With athletes often participating on high school teams, leagues and clubs, there is even more demand on the body and the wear and tear that comes with possible year-round participation and specialization.
I know many believe that sports specialization can lead to more opportunities on the playing field – from youth to college to elite sports; however, it is important to remember that young athletes who participate in cross training and in different sports may have the greatest benefit. They are exposed to a wider range of skills and get rest from repetitive, single-sport activities. I recommend a protocol that includes that variety along with supervised flexibility and strength training.
Here are some additional tips:
- Avoid burnout: Sports that go year-round may not provide adequate time for rest and recharging that may lead to athlete burnout. Studies have shown that athletes who focus on one sport tend to develop burnout and quit sports altogether, leading to inactivity in their later years. Those who take longer periods of rest tend to recover easier and have a longer, healthier career in sports. Taking two to three months off from a single sport every year to participate in supervised strength and conditioning allows injuries to heal and the mind to refresh.
- Repetitive motion can lead to overuse injuries: Specializing in one sport may lead to increased stresses placed on specific body parts, leading to increased chances of injury. Common chronic conditions seen in athletes include tendinitis, inflammation and stress fractures. These overuse injuries often go undiagnosed for long periods of time and may become more serious. Injuries may lead to loss of playing time and function as well as increased mental exhaustion. Taking a break from a sport may decrease stresses placed on the body, thus decreasing the chance of injury.
- Get plenty of rest and watch for signs of fatigue: When the body is tired, it is more susceptible to sustain an injury. Limit training in a single sport to no more than five days a week with at least one day off from any organized physical activity. Preparing for a sport each season through proper strength, flexibility and balance training is essential to decreasing chances of injury.
A goal of all athletics should be to have fun and learn lifelong physical activity skills. Participating in multiple sports throughout the year provides numerous benefits. Consult with your school’s athletic trainer for additional tips to reduce the risk of injury. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association has created a resource to help reduce the risk of overuse injuries. Also, visit atyourownrisk.org for additional sports safety tips for athletes and parents.