- Don't treat 6- and 7-year old kids like professional athletes.
- Don't play the same sport year round.
- Don't specialize in one sport.
- Play a variety of positions and sports.
- Teach children proper technique from an early age.
- Play sports for fun, not with the goal to earn a college scholarship or become the next Michael Jordan.
- Take 2-3 months off a year to let the body rest and recover.
Watch the video below where Dr. Andrews talks about preventing youth sports injuries:
- What causes overuse injuries which account for about half of all youth sports injuries?
- Where does proper technique come from?
- Why is specialization and sports specific training bad?
- How can coaches/parents help youth athletes be the best athlete they can be?
Most overuse injuries are not about doing too much too soon or doing too much without enough rest. Overuse injuries are about postural alignment and biomechanics. A postural imbalance like an elevated hip (which is caused by that hip being less strong and stable than the other hip) can cause a shoulder to drop as a counterbalance (the out of position shoulder now has unnatural movement patterns causing swimmer's shoulder or Youth Pitching Elbow), a valgus knee posture (which creates uneven forces in the knee leading to patellofemoral pain syndrome or iliotibial band syndrome), and/or a pronated foot/ankle (causing Achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis). These "overuse" injuries usually show up on one side of the body because of the postural imbalances and the only way to truly cure them is to balance the child's posture restoring natural biomechanics. Learn more about overuse injuries here.
Proper technique comes from good coaching, but equally important is good posture. Form follows function. If a child has postural imbalances that means they do not have balanced function which means proper technique is impossible no matter how good the coaching is. An athlete must start with good postural balance as the foundation on top of which proper technique can be taught, appropriate training can be done, and high performance can be achieved. Postural imbalance always lowers performance, interfere with technique, and will eventually lead to pain and injury. Learn how form follows function and bad posture equals bad form.
Specialization is the focus on one sport or position year round. This focus sounds like a good idea as the youth athlete will be able to put in more hours and repetitions of a specific movement in a year. But the increased hours and repetitions is the exact cause of injury and why it is bad (not only for youth athletes but for athletes of all ages). Think about taking your car and driving it for twice as many miles as you normally do in a year and only allowing yourself to take left hand turns. What does that do to the car? First more miles means more stress on the engine, transmission, brakes, and components of the car. Taking only left hand turns is going to drastically increase the stress and wear and tear on the front right side tire (more specifically the outside of the front right tire most and the right hand side of all the tires). Specialization and sports specific training for children is the same as driving your car as described. The constant repetition of the same movements causes the wear and tear on the human body. A right handed pitcher playing year round baseball is much more likely to get injured than a child who plays soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring, and spends their summers exploring nature and climbing trees. If both children has the same natural talent, the one who specializes will burn out or be forced to quit because of injury and the child who played multiple sports could end up a college or MLB pitcher. Learn about the best approach to sports training for kids.
Coaches and parents have the unique position to be able to teach children what is important in sports and how to be the best athlete they can be. This starts with teaching children sports should be first and foremost for fun. All kids know doing one thing gets boring and doing different things is fun. This means all kids should play different sports, do different activities, and enjoy lots of free play. Secondly, all parents and coaches should teach kids that the best baseball pitcher/soccer player/runner at 10 years old will not be the best pitcher/soccer player/runner at 20 years old. To be the best at 18 or 20 years old that athlete had to do several things: 1) stay in love with the sport and not burn out 2) stay healthy and avoid any serious or repeated injuries 3) develop the physical body to achieve high level performance as a young adult. Staying in love and avoiding burn out comes from playing a variety of sports and doing a variety of activities. Avoiding injury comes from maintaining postural balance and function. Developing the physical body to achieve success as a young adult/adult comes from doing what it takes to develop the overall athlete not the pitcher or quarterback. This goes back to avoiding lots of sports specific workouts and instead focus on developing a well-rounded athletic body - strength, flexibility, agility, balance, coordination, etc. Here's an example: the perfect workout.
- remember sports should be fun
- avoid specialization and year round sports
- take time off
- maintain good postural alignment
- include lots of free play