Evanson Column: Specialization is still causing kids harm
A couple years back, I wrote an article about specialization in sport.
With every passing year, kids from elementary to high school are playing fewer sports, more games and spending far less time away from the activity causing our youth — in many cases — more harm than good.
Kids are getting hurt at an alarming rate, suffering injuries seen more frequently in people more than twice their age, and all in an attempt to prosper on and off the field.
But while their skills may improve, and exposure to college recruiters may increase, both their short- and long-term health seems to be at risk.
ESPN recently ran two pieces regarding this very thing. In both, they discuss in depth the alarming rate of injury the NBA is seeing in their young players. Stress fractures, ligament and cartilage damage and non-contact injuries more customary in players at or beyond the age of 30.
What do they blame for this? Specialization and a workload unbefitting kids and young adults, whose bodies simply can't handle it.
Kids between the ages of 8 and 18 are often playing more than 60 and upwards of 90 soccer, basketball or baseball/softball games per year. No longer are there seasons, but rather school, summer and travel ball, which spans the better part of a year and offers few breaks from the repetitive motions that often lead to injury.
In ESPN's articles, doctors speak to just that. The lack of diverse movement creates physical instability, and that instability is creating vulnerability in even the best of athletes.
NBA executives, along with league commissioner Adam Silver, have expressed concerns that the ever-increasing workload heaped upon teens as part of club basketball like AAU, in addition to specialization, is building a generation of super athletes more prone to injury than ever. Team doctors are seeing kids that can run faster and jump higher, but because they're doing little else beyond the basketball court, they're physically incapable of performing simple acts like standing on one foot.
Dr. Mike Clark from Atlanta offered, in the ESPN article, the following analogy:
"Imagine a car with a powerful engine, one carefully engineered and maintained for years. But as powerful as that engine has become, the car's brakes and suspension are equally poor. So the car can't handle the stress that its engine puts upon it — all akin to placing Ferrari's top racing motor inside a hybrid while making no adjustments to the car's frame."
Dr. Kent Bond, owner of Impact Physical Therapy in Hillsboro, told me two years ago that he had seen firsthand the difference in the rigors of youth sports today versus those of two or three decades ago. The year-round model of modern day athletics has lent itself to injuries that were uncommon during Bond's youth. He maintains that many of today's injuries are simply due to overuse, and while coaches are starting to understand the ramifications, change is happening very slowly.
"I've had nine- to 10-year-old kids come into my office who are playing 60 games a summer," said Bond. "The body needs rest."
But in many cases, kids and their bodies aren't getting it.
Is it today's system that preaches more? The ever-increasing pressure built around the quest for a college scholarship? Or maybe a lack of true understanding of what's "best" by the people responsible for knowing — coaches and administrators? I'd argue all of the above. But ultimately I think it's a parent's job to step between the system, the quest, the coaches and the kids who don't know better in the interests of short- and long-term health.
Expose them to — and encourage them to play — more than one sport. If they're not interested and believe the year-round approach is for them, get them involved in a stretching and strength training program that will address the rigors and physical inefficiencies associated with playing soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball or softball all year. It's in their best interest to
take care of their bodies now,
before it's too late.
While they may not thank you now, they might just
thank you later.
Wade Evanson is sports editor of the Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune. He can be reached at:
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