Overscheduling, Overuse Injuries and Burnout in Youth Sports
Over 60 million kids take part in organized sports in the U.S. and 75% of them play more than one sport. Youth sport participation has been rising over the last two decades, especially among children younger than six. With the current obesity epidemic in this country, it’s certainly a good thing to see kids being active. But as kids participate in more sports, in more competitive leagues and at younger ages, there are a few things to keep in mind.
It doesn’t take long for sports practices and games to take over the weekly schedule and become overwhelming for both athletes and parents. It’s important to make sure that kids have enough time for other things too, like free play, school work, socializing with friends and of course, sleep. Research has shown that kids who get six or fewer hours of sleep per night are at increased risk of overuse injuries.
Overuse injuries occur when the body suffers too much repetitive damage over time, without enough time to heal. Kids are at special risk for these types of injuries for many reasons:
- Growing bones are weaker in certain places and more susceptible to injury
- Muscles are often inflexible
- They are usually still learning how to use the right technique in their sport and may not use proper mechanics
Incorporating a proper warm-up, including muscle stretching, is an important part of any sports routine. Also, pain should not be considered normal for kids playing sports, especially pain that is:
- Getting worse over time
- Affecting daily activities outside of sports
- Causing the child to limp or take breaks during activity
Kids with any of these signs should seek medical care from someone trained in treating sports injuries.
Burnout is a series of physical and mental changes that can occur in competitive athletes as a result of chronic stress or too much exercise without enough rest. Symptoms include:
- Poor sleep
- Weight loss
- Muscle soreness
- Decreased performance
- Feeling depressed
- Losing enjoyment from playing sports
Sometimes kids lose enjoyment in sports they once loved for a variety of reasons. Occasionally their interests change or they want to spend more time with friends. But, it’s also possible that they may be practicing and playing too much and feeling overwhelmed or feeling pressure from coaches or parents to excel.
There are no hard and fast rules about sports participation when it comes to how early, how many, and how often, but here are some guidelines to help parents navigate an ever more confusing youth sports environment:
- Preschool should be a time for free play and learning motor skills like running, jumping, throwing and catching. Vision, attention span and the ability to understand competition are not fully developed in these kids so highly competitive sports should be avoided
- As kids get older, a good rule of thumb is that they should not practice more hours per week in sports than their age
- Let kids determine which sports they play and how much. It’s good to expose them to a bunch of sports early on, but as they get older let them choose what they like and never pressure them into continuing a sport they no longer enjoy
For more tips from our Sports Medicine team, sign up for our e-newsletter.