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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Kids and Sports: How Young is too Young? How Much is too Much?

Until It Hurts: America's Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our KidsFor those of you who live in the Bay Area, many of you may have seen the article in the San Jose Mercury News this past Sunday about kids and sports (it appeared in the Oakland Tribune a couple of weeks earlier): "How young is too young?". Its basic premise is that many of us parents start our kids out in sports at too young of an age, assuming (incorrectly) that the earlier they start, the better they'll become. However, as Mark Hyman, author of "Until It Hurts: America's Obsession With Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids" notes,

"If I had any advice for parents it would be to relax, and let your child's natural interests lead. Parents are invested in this idea that they can turn their kids into... super athletes. The psychology of parenting is: Earlier equals better. There is not a lot to support that, except our own insecurities as parents."

What researchers have found is that when kids begin a sport too young, there is an increased chance of burnout (the game ceases to be fun -- 70 percent of kids drop out of organized sports by age 13) and injury. And one of the most common type of injuries (over half) are "overuse injuries," that is, injuries that come from repeating the same motion for too long a period without taking time off (three months rest is the recommendation I usually see).

I would add that it is not only a question of "How young is too young?", but also of "How much is too much?" Our kids are playing the same sport year round on travel baseball teams, club soccer teams, and the like, without giving their bodies time off to rest, which is why the rate of arm injuries among baseball players and knee injuries among soccer players have been increasing exponentially. Moreover, if they play baseball, soccer, volleyball, football, etc. so much that they are no longer fun for them to play (but are more like a job), then they'll probably stop playing and do something else. As Hall of Famer Willie Stargell once noted, "When they start the game, they don't say 'Work Ball!' They say 'Play Ball!'"

Since I have written about this previously ("Aristotle, Virtue & the Youth Sports-Injury Epidemic"), I won't belabor the point any further. The bottom line is that if our kids play too much of any one sport without any rest, whether from starting too young or playing year round, they will either burn out or sustain potentially career-ending injuries. So, read the article, spread the word and let our kids try something different.

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