Keeping Youth Sports Fun and Safe

It’s hard to deny the benefits of youth sports. In addition to providing a fun pastime, youth sport participation promotes an active lifestyle and can be a great way to make friends. A study conducted by the Aspen Institute even concluded that children who played sports are more likely to remain active into adulthood, attend college, and have stronger self esteem. As good as this all sounds, there are some aspects of youth sports that require caution and attention. I was a little surprised to learn of the potential dangers of specialized youth athletics. In this article we’ll look at ways to avoid common mistakes in the world of youth sports, and how youth sports can be a safe, balanced, and fun experience.

An important thing to consider is safety. Several studies have shown that youth athletes who specialize in one sport are more likely to get injured than those who play multiple sports. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, specialized athletes actually spend more time training than multisport athletes, which can lead to overuse injuries. Another factor leading to injuries is a lack of conditioning for the muscle groups that are less involved in a young athlete’s primary/only sport. I’m not saying our kids should think that they need to be the next Bo Jackson, but playing pickup games or dribbling a soccer ball around every now and then could end up being beneficial in the long run.

I stuck to baseball in my youth, not to make it the focus of my life, but because that’s what I liked and what I was good at. Unfortunately, I also spent a good portion of the tail end of my playing career dealing with injuries, which is no fun. I’m not implying that I could have avoided all of my shoulder problems by shooting more baskets in my yard, but it is important for parents and coaches to be aware of potential injury due to overuse.

Young athletes often specialize in a sport in order to get good at it and/or because it is what the child wants. However, besides finding balance in order to avoid injury, it is also important to be aware of potential burn out. One of my closest friends growing up was groomed from a very early age to be a scholarship athlete. Baseball was a year-round affair for him, and he devoted countless hours to honing his game. It seemed like the only times we would spend any time together would be on the field, since he was so busy training or playing in showcase tournaments. He had the opportunity to play Division I ball, but by the time we were done with high school he decided his playing days were over. He was proud of what he had accomplished, but he decided it was time for a change. Offering support to a child’s pursuit is imperative, but it is just as important to be aware of sport fatigue. It is also important to be sure that the support is for the child’s passion and not that of the parent; living vicariously through your child will not result in a positive outcome for anyone concerned.

Is your athlete becoming disinterested? Finding reasons to miss practice? These are signs of burnout, and can be resolved with taking a temporary break from the sport. Doing so may result in a newfound sense of interest when the child returns to the sport, or even decides to try a new sport all together. The ultimate goal is to benefit from all the positives youth sports have to offer, and this can be accomplished through a little extra caution and awareness.