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IS YEAR ROUND COMPETITION GOOD FOR YOUNG ATHLETES?

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Tid Bits of Info

  • There are more than 10 million youth athletes between the ages of 6-17 that play youth basketball in the US alone.
  • One study followed 1200 youth athletes for 3 years and those who specialized in one sport were 125% more likely to experience a musculoskeletal injury.
  •  The number of soccer-related injuries treated in emergency rooms increased 78 percent from 1990 to 2014 in ages 7 to 17.
  • One study showed that athletes ages 15 to 19 account for 57 percent of Tommy John surgeries.
  • Seek the advice of a knowledgeable healthcare professional to prepare youth athletes for what lies ahead of them.

Recently, an ESPN senior writer questioned the practice of year round competition primarily in youth basketball during a given year.  Most healthcare professionals have noticed that many youth have begun to specialize in one sport throughout the year. Does this focus on a specific sport all year long increase the likelihood of injuries? To help reduce this possibility, many healthcare specialists recommend young athletes follow a full body conditioning program.

In the past, athletes competed in several different sports throughout the year.  When one sports season ended, they changed uniforms and gear and played an entirely different sport.  This trend has changed dramatically over the last 30 years, and now many young athletes focus on one sport all year long.

Healthcare professionals are asking, “Does this perpetual competition in one sport lead to injuries and possibly jeopardize their careers or future health?”  There may never be a strict consensus on the topic, but playing the same sport year round raises the possibility that the same body parts are used in excess.  Any time athletes “over-use” a body part, they pre-dispose themselves to an injury to that body part.

year round basketball

Youth sports have regulations and some are followed well, but unfortunately too many regulations are not governed well enough to protect the young athletes.  Little League Baseball does a nice job regulating the number of pitches that a pitcher can throw but does not control the amount of throwing any other player does during a game.  Youth basketball does not regulate the number of minutes that each player plays during a weekend tournament.  The responsibility of regulation should fall on the shoulders of the coach and parent, but unfortunately too many coaches and parents are more concerned about winning/losing or exposure to college coaches to regulate adequately.

Specialization in a sport starts early!  It is not uncommon to have young athletes “declare” their sport by the time they are 8-9 years old or younger.  This means that they most likely play or practice their sport 10 plus months of the year.  Many of these athletes don’t take any significant time off from their sport and end up participating in it the entire 12 month period.   Consequently, their bodies get “beat up” by the time they are supposed to be beginning a long and prosperous career.  “Burn out” is very common and many times the athlete gets tired of being in pain and experiencing a reduced production in their performance.  By the time they reach high school or college, they have had it with that sport.  The sport that they loved to play at one time becomes a huge burden and their willingness to participate wains.

Specialization in a sport should include a full body conditioning program that would better prepare the musculoskeletal system for the rigors of that sport.   A thorough, but basic, conditioning program should be implemented and include exercises and drills that are geared towards strength, flexibility, and endurance.  A strong focus should be put on core strength and teaching proper technique of the exercises.  Improper form can also lead to injuries. Proper conditioning can improve their performance.   If regulation is not going to be enforced for many reasons, the least that can be done for youth athletes is to condition them well enough so their bodies have a chance to withstand the rigors of perpetual competition.

Competing too often at any age can have a detrimental effect on the musculoskeletal system.  Unfortunately young athletes are more susceptible to injuries due to the immaturity of their musculoskeletal system.   Injuries that are sustained at an early age can come back to “haunt” the athlete later in life.  From a competition stand point, their bodies might be “broken” and limit their ability to compete at an advance level as they get older.  From a life stand point, the injuries might pre-dispose them to early onset degenerative changes.  In either instance, proper regulation of their athletic competition might have prevented the future outcome.

Seek the advice of a healthcare specialist who specializes in conditioning the musculoskeletal system for a conditioning program that can help a young athlete prepare their bodies for the rigors of their chosen sport.  The proper conditioning program can help to improve their performance and reduce the chances of being injured during practice or competition.