It’s not the kids who cause injuries, it’s often the adults.
As the busy fall sport season begins, I am often asked how to prevent injuries in growing kids and when — or if — it is safe to train.
The unfortunate part is that overuse injuries in growing athletes are often the fault of the adults in the athlete’s lives . . . the parents and the coach.
We have to act as the responsible “filters” to help athletes through this process safely.
The first important concept is to understand what the body goes through when it is in the growth phases of maturation.
This usually happens between the ages of 11 and 15 for girls and 13 and 17 for boys. The body requires significant energy, as well as rest, to grow properly.
That is why you notice your teenagers with their heads stuck in the fridge on a regular basis. Kids need to consume 2,200 to 3,200 calories per day just to fuel growth before we add increased needs from training.
As well, according to the National Sleep Foundation, your teen requires eight to 10 hours of sleep regularly, and their biological clocks shift so they really can’t fall asleep before about 11 p.m. and find it very difficult to wake up before 7 or 8 a.m.
We can’t change this reality; it is a basic biological need of the growing athlete.
If they must get up early to train, they may require a nap later in the day, or a sleep-in day on the weekend, to reset the balance. Without proper fuel and adequate recovery in the form of sleep, the body is placed in a weakened state while growth is occurring.
Then, for athletes, we apply an increase demand from training for sport. I regularly encounter kids who are playing three or four sports with overlapping schedules. And guess where I encounter them? In the clinic with an overuse injury.
As kids, they just naturally want to “do everything” and they have yet to develop filters of responsibility. As adults we are supposed to take care of our kids, with our experience and knowledge, and be responsible for their well-being.
It’s a very simple formula: overload from too much activity (and not enough recovery) damages tendons and creates things like Achilles tendonopathy, knee pain and back issues.
Just like a bank account — withdraw too much and you have to spend some time rebuilding the account.
This overload can also result from too much training in a single sport at one time. This is where the coach is responsible for monitoring how much he or she is asking of the athletes.
Good coaches have a plan that includes practice, play, physical training and recovery in the season for kids this age.
Our kids are in school too, which is like a full-time job. Imagine working 40 hours a week and playing two sports every day, including the weekend.
Don't you think you would be exhausted at the end of the week?
Don’t take this as me endorsing hyper-specialization and that our kids should only play one sport.
It is important for an athlete’s development to play multiple sports . . . just not all at once.
Finally, we need to pay attention to equipment for growing athletes.
This includes the obvious, such as helmets, shoulder pads and other protective equipment, but also the simple things like footwear and orthotics.
Often growing athletes will shoot up four or five inches in a summer, which changes how equipment fits.
We joke in the clinic that September is “shoulder separation season,” because these injuries are often caused by shoulder pads being too small and the player being checked into the boards.
So, at the start of each season, parents should review all equipment used by their kids to make sure it fits properly, is in good repair and is ready for the year.
Kids just don’t think of these things, and as parents and coaches need to help teach them how to take care of their bodies.
If you ensure they have adequate nutrition, enough rest and recovery and proper fitting equipment, you will help them have fun playing the sports they love!
Randy Goodman is a Clinical Specialist in Sports Physiotherapy, having worked with professional athletes in the NHL, NBA, NFL, NCAA and CIS, as well as consulting with many of Canada’s national teams. You can contact him at www.GoodmanSportsPhysio.ca