There is a growing trend in youth sports toward sport specialization that seems like it is here to stay. More kids are now focusing all their energy on one sport. Kids practice and train for this sport year round. As a result of this early specialization, we are seeing more frequent injuries in younger populations. There are increasing rates of adolescent overuse injuries like Severs and Osgood Schlatters . Also, we are seeing an increase in elbow and shoulder injuries in young baseball pitchers and knee injuries in young soccer players. Kids are getting hurt more frequently because of they spend the whole year doing the same movement patterns that are frequent in their sport of choice – throwing in baseball or softball , kicking in soccer, jumping in basketball or volleyball and little time moving through other movement patterns common in other sports. Spending all year doing the same movement pattern produces muscles that are very strong in those movement patterns but are weak in other movement patterns, creating tight or weak muscles and overuse injuries.
It used to be that a young person would spend three months playing soccer or football followed by three months playing basketball, hockey, or volleyball then three months playing baseball, softball or lacrosse followed by three months of summer time during which they had free play – biking, skateboarding, swimming, playing pick- up games etc. We used to call these kids that played different sports “athletes”. Now we call kids who specialize in one sport a baseball / softball player, soccer player, basketball player, hockey player volleyball player, lacrosse player, football player or gymnast.
How do we take our players and turn them back into an athlete? How do we fix movement pattern dominance? Following these simple solutions can help maintain safe and enjoyable participation and specialization: 1) Encourage participation in multiple sports. 2) Ensure that your young athlete has an “offseason” of 8-12 weeks where he or she does not have formal practices or games in their sport. 3) Find a good performance training program. A good program will begin with a functional assessment to uncover any limitations, muscle weakness or movement pattern dominance. The program will address these problems while challenging the young athlete in movement patterns that are uncommon in their sport but necessary for the development of a complete, injury free athlete. The thorough performance program will also teach foam rolling and mobility exercises so the athlete maintains tissue quality and joint mobility through all planes of motion. Not only will your young athlete have a better chance of staying injury free, but his or her performance will improve upon his or her return to her sport.
Kai Etheridge, CSCS, PES, ATC