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Overtraining in Youth
Picture this: Your 8 year old daughter loves gymnastics. You happily sign her up for weekly classes at the local gymnastics club. All of a sudden, her coach approaches you and says that she thinks your daughter has ‘real’ talent and should be introduced to the competitive league. Here’s the catch: Training averages 10-12 hours each week. How do you know if this is safe for your daughter’s developing body? Could this be too much of a good thing? As parents, how can you evaluate your child’s training and know if s/he is being healthy and active or getting to the point of overtraining and possibly injuring him/herself?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “An overuse injury is microtraumatic damage to a bone, muscle, or tendon that has been subjected to repetitive stress without sufficient time to heal or undergo the natural reparative process.” 50% of all injuries in pediatrics are related to overuse and overtraining. There are no exact guidelines that will tell you if the sport is indeed safe for your child to participate in; however, the following general guidelines are recommended from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Encourage athletes to strive to have at least 1 to 2 days off per week from competitive athletics, sport-specific training, and competitive practice (scrimmage) to allow them to recover both physically and psychologically.
- Advise athletes that the weekly training time, number of repetitions, or total distance should not increase by more than 10% each week (eg, increase total running mileage by 2 miles if currently running a total of 20 miles per week).
- Encourage the athlete to take at least 2 to 3 months away from a specific sport during the year.
- Emphasize that the focus of sports participation should be on fun, skill acquisition, safety, and sportsmanship.
- Encourage the athlete to participate on only 1 team during a season. If the athlete is also a member of a traveling or select team, then that participation time should be incorporated into the aforementioned guidelines.
- If the athlete complains of nonspecific muscle or joint problems, fatigue, or poor academic performance, be alert for possible burnout. Questions pertaining to sport motivation may be appropriate.
- Advocate for the development of a medical advisory board for weekend athletic tournaments to educate athletes about heat or cold illness, overparticipation, associated overuse injuries, and/or burnout.
- Encourage the development of educational opportunities for athletes, parents, and coaches to provide information about appropriate nutrition and fluids, sport safety, and the avoidance of overtraining to achieve optimal performance and good health.
- Convey a special caution to parents with younger athletes who participate in multigame tournaments in short periods of time.
As parents, the best thing that you can do is to educate yourself on your child’s sport. Ask questions of your child’s coaches. Do not hesitate to ask about sport specific injuries and what the club does to help decrease the incidence of these injuries. If something doesn’t seem right to you, or you have concerns about burnout or overtraining, discuss these with your child’s coaches. Just because the club recommends 10 hours a week, doesn’t mean that you have to adhere to that strict training schedule. The goal of sport should be to set your child up for a lifetime of healthy physical activity, not creating injuries that affect the child’s view of the sport negatively. Listen to your child. If s/he is constantly complaining of aches and pains, and nagging injuries, it might be best to back off and rest and re-evaluate their current training regime. You only get one body in this lifetime, so we must teach our children how to treat their bodies with respect.
Most importantly, be active, have fun, and enjoy your sport!
Brenner, J. S. (2007). Overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout in child and adolescent athletes. Pediatrics, 119 (6), 1242-1245.