By: Diane Gerlach, DO, Aurora Health Care
Kids are getting into sports earlier than ever. They compete at five, have a trophy case at seven and are on the travel team by age nine.
Then these young athletes burn out or wear out by 13. Sometimes because parents push kids to be the next superstar athlete. Other times because kids are driven to succeed or to impress mom and dad.
Too much time on playing fields, courts, diamonds, rinks and pools can end up causing your kids stress, pain and frustration. As parents, we need to manage the pace and intensity of our kids’ playing and practice time so that sports become a lifelong source of enjoyment and fitness.
How Much Is Too Much?
There are no set rules, but keep these general guidelines in mind.
- Limit practice or play time to no more than 18-20 hours a week.
- Child athletes never should play more than five days a week.
- Your kids need at least one day a week off with no organized physical activity.
- Give your children two to three months off from sports during the year.
- Don’t allow your children to specialize in a sport until middle school.
- Limit pitchers or quarterbacks to 300 throws per week, including practice.
Recognize Signs of Overuse and Burnout
Because your kids’ bones and muscles are developing and growing, they are more prone to injury, especially from over use. Injuries sustained early in life can cause permanent damage and chronic pain.
Coaches sometimes push young athletes. So as a parent, it’s important to recognize the signs of over use and burnout and help your kids heal. Signs of trouble may include:
- Declining performance
- Declining motivation
- Chronic pain
- Not getting along with teammates
Putting Your Young Athlete First
Your child may have a hard time backing down when he or she is seen as talented or promising. Kids want attention. They also want to live up to your and their coaches expectations. So how do you encourage without pushing too hard?
- Remember what sports are all about. Fun and friends. Building confidence, strength and agility. Becoming a team player. Being in positive environment. (Sports keep some kids off the streets and out of trouble).
- Focus on technique, and then work on power and speed. Your child’s growing body can’t handle extreme intensity.
- Encourage your child to strive for personal growth. Promote competition within the framework of good sportsmanship.
- Make sports something you can enjoy together, not something your child has to do.
- Avoid injecting your expectations.
- Most important, look for signs of burn out and over use. Seek medical attention if pain persists. If your child resists slowing down, be supportive but firm. Playing through the pain can cause more damage. Taking time to heal will allow your child to come back stronger and smarter.
Make sports enjoyable and attainable for your child’s lifetime. Avoid the temptation to relive your dream of becoming the superstar through your child. Never pressure your child to excel in sports for a shot at a college scholarship. Instead, make sports a way to exercise, have fun and spend time together.
Brenner. (2014). Sports: How much is too much? Retrieved June 6, 2014, from Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters: http://www.chkd.org
Micheli. (2012). Sports Training – How much is too much. Retrieved June 6, 2014, from US Youth soccer: http://www.usyouthsoccer.org