Who is to Blame for the Decline in Youth Sports (Part 3)

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

(If you missed parts one and two in this series you may wish to read these first)

So, the parent who fears their child is being left behind, isn’t being taught the proper fundamentals by the rec coach, isn’t going to make the high school team and isn’t going to have a chance at a scholarship goes “all-in” and pushes them into a competitive club. And mostly for financial reasons, that club wants to play year-round, meaning there is not time for other sports. The parent believes that for their son or daughter to keep up, they must accept this paradigm which means that they are choosing for their child, sometimes as early as first grade, what single sport they are going to play the rest of their lives. Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said he had spoken with the NBA, NFL and NHL commissioners and they agreed, “the best athlete is a kid who played multiple sports.” But in the new youth sports reality, which places an earlier emphasis on winning and elite skill development, this multi-sport athlete is becoming rare. And who do you think is more likely to get burned-out? Kids who get to recharge their baseball batteries while they play soccer and then basketball, or someone locked into a single sport year-round who fears they can’t step off the treadmill for a moment because if they do everyone else will pass them up?

Specialization has also led to in increase in overuse injuries. According to studies, athletes ages 7-18 who specialize in one sport are 1.5 times as likely to receive an overuse injury. Many youngsters either can’t, or choose not to, come back from these injuries, making them another sad statistic.

All of which creates a ton of pressure for the children. They figure out at an early age that this is terribly important business. Their parents are uptight about their progress. The coaches are deadly serious. The time investment is overwhelming. And they get the message, sometimes stated overtly but always implied, “If you don’t play well you won’t make the high school team.” Or, “We’re not going to be able to pay for you to go to college unless you get a scholarship”. Now go out there and have fun, kid!

And now, more than ever, sports have intense competition for kids’ affection. The days of, “Mom, I’m bored. There’s nothing to do,” answered by, “Then go outside and play!” are sadly in the past. Kids with smart phones, tablets and video games are never bored anymore, which is how the makers of those devices, apps and games intend it to be. I am convinced screen addiction is the number one problem of our children’s generation, and not only because of the impact it has on sports. But when an adolescent can choose between participating in a high-stakes event where one misstep might lead to a potential tongue-lashing from a coach, demotion, parental disappointment and a diminished future, or a trip to a fun fantasy world where the child is completely in control and safe, is it any wonder many pick the latter?

So is the solution limiting screen time for our children? That is absolutely a good idea in general, but it probably won’t have much impact on sports participation. Taking away something enjoyable so that an unpleasant activity is the only option is better than just giving in and allowing kids to live virtually all day. But we won’t be able to force them forever to do something they don’t enjoy. I’d rather see us fix sports so that our children would prefer to be on a team than alone online.

It is time we realize that the participation decline in youth sports is not a temporary fluctuation but, rather, a trend that shows no signs of reversing. We can effect change but it is going to take a multi-pronged approach. Programs such as the Urban Youth Academy created by Major League Baseball aimed at reviving the sport in the inner city provide opportunities for economically disadvantaged youth to compete with players who have access to the best equipment, private lessons and facilities. Our partners at PHITAmerica.org are promoting legislation to encourage activity in adolescents. And since the growth of travel sports shows no signs of leveling off, it is up to our recreational programs to step up and offer a more competitive product. It also might entail some creative marketing. If all the kids at school are bragging about winning their rec championship, if the local papers are congratulating the town champions and publishing their photo, in short if it becomes “cool” to play rec sports, more kids will want to spend at least some of their time there. All organizations, travel or rec, must put forth better coaching through education and observation. And this doesn’t necessarily mean improvement in terms of technical education. It means coaches who want to be there, who enjoy the experience and can relate to kids. Every player who quits because he didn’t have fun is another downward tick on the graph.

And finally, parents need to push their egos, fears and dreams aside. Your child is not playing so that you can brag about his or her accomplishments to your friends. Your child is not playing so you can say that they made the all-star or high school team. Your child is not playing so that you have one less college tuition to pay for. Your child should be out there because they love it. And if you don’t keep that in mind, the day may come soon when your child is not playing.

Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

Overuse Injuries

We keep harping on this, but it is true. Sports specialization leads to overuse injuries. This courtesy of our friends at STOP Sports Injuries.org. Make sure young athletes diversify to minimize these occurrences.

STOP Sports Injuries Specialization Tweet

Our partners at STOP Sports Injuries tweeted an important message about kids only playing one sport:

Is More Actually Better?

By Rick Meana

Nope, the direct opposite according to sports medicine doctors is actually the case. No two words have raised more concerns amongst those in the sports medicine field recently than overuse injuries.

According to most of the Sports Medicine Professionals I have spoken to recently report that just 15 years ago, overuse injuries accounted for 20% of patients visiting their clinics, now it’s up to 70% and increasing year after year! What is interesting to note is that over training, early specialization and too little rest and recovery all contribute to overuse injuries. What is even more interesting to note (and very troubling) is that they point to the “youth soccer club mentality” for the “epidemic” that is affecting all youth sports across the board!

Overuse injuries develop when tissue is injured due to repetitive loading of a muscle, bone, tendon, ligament, that is too much physical activity and too little rest and recovery. It is also defined as the cumulative effect of many tiny injuries that cause pain and loss of function. Close to half of the injuries reported regarding youth soccer are overuse injuries!

So Why Are Kids Being Pushed To Play Sports So Hard?

Parents? Coaches? Or a combination of the two? Are they being lead to believe they can get a college scholarship?

”It’s amazing how many parents project their children at professional levels,” says Vern D. Seefeldt, director emeritus of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State. Coaches feed the frenzy too. When a soccer guru urges playing another tourney or ratcheting up practice time, parents often don’t object. They’re being told by the coach: “Your son has amazing potential and needs to continue to improve”.

“There are few people guiding the parents who have the welfare of the child at stake,” says Dr. Eric Small, head of the Sports Medicine Center for Young Athletes in Mount Kisco, N.Y., and author of “Kids & Sports”. Here is what Dr. Small says, “Making the injury list even longer is the trend toward sport specialization. A decade ago a peppy 10-year-old might divide his play among soccer, basketball, and baseball seasons. Now more are being channeled to one sport that they play year-round. The extra training improves skills but adds to the wear and tear.”

One of the most popular women’s soccer stars Mia Hamm’s parents encouraged her to play a variety of sports. When high school soccer season ended, she played as a point guard on the basketball team. ”I was a terrible shot, but fast,” says Hamm. ”My dad never said: ‘Go out and work on soccer.’ The decisions about playing came from me.” Hamm tells parents and kids to avoid early specialization.

All over the country Sports Medicine Professionals are advising parents to closely monitor how much time their children are putting in to organized sports. Be leery of the number of hours that coaches may be demanding to play and train. Parents are so focused on their kids being superstars that they think they’re doing a service when training jumps from 10 hours a week to 30. They love their child, but they have blinders on. Dr. Small goes on to say, ”Often those blinders don’t come off until a youngster gets hurt, but by then a youngsters sports career could be over.”

A Watch List for Parents, Coaches and Administrators

Many injuries occur when organized practice time is ratcheted up from two days a week to five. A good rule of thumb to follow is physical activity should not be increased to more than 10% a week.

Be Aware Of Growth Spurts

As kids grow, muscles can become less flexible and more susceptible to injury. Parents should watch for periods of rapid growth.

Early Specialization Leads To Muscle Imbalances

Kids who play one sport year-round develop certain muscles to deal with the demands of that particular sport while others remain weak. A well balanced conditioning program of playing a variety of different sports and proper rest in between activity is healthy.

When There Is Pain There Is No Gain

Child athletes and parents shouldn’t ignore the warning signs assuming that injuries will magically go away. Have a doctor check out any minor pains in joints or bones before they become major ones.

Signs of Overuse: Weakness, Loss of Flexibility, Chronic Pain, Inflammation, Swelling. The inflammation is actually a degeneration of tissue caused by the micro trauma Some others: Loss of Performance, (Hard to differentiate between a ‘bad day’ and overuse injury). “I don’t know, its just a little sore”, “I don’t remember getting hurt”

Soreness after workout is normal but it should dissipate after a day or 2 and soreness, aching and limping lasting 3 days or more may indicate overuse. The overuse injury is a process, and will take time to develop, starting 3 or 4 weeks into a season. Muscles affected by overuse injury tend to be tighter, more irritable and will become prone to an acute injury.

Rick Meana has been the New Jersey Youth Soccer Director of Coaching for over 16 years and in that time he has directly impacted the education and development of thousands of players and coaches from all levels. Rick has served on both the US Youth Soccer ODP Region I Boys and Girls Coaching Staffs for more than 18 years and currently is the director of the Under-12 Boys South Development Camp. He holds the USSF ‘A’ License and National Youth License, as well as the NSCAA Premier Diploma.

Sports Specialization Study

Our partners at STOP Sports Injuries.org have brought us this interesting study from The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, It is titled, Prevalence of Sport Specialization in High School Athletics and is an important read for all high school athletes and parents.