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Is Your Child Too Young For Sports?

PEMBROKE PINES (CBS4) - Infant athletes. While those two words don't seem to go together, believe it or not there's growing competition to market baby sports; from DVDs to gyms for infants and toddlers.

While some parents think its all innocent fun, doctors are seeing an increase in injuries among younger children enrolled in athletic type programs.

At The Little Gym in Pembroke Pines children as young as four months old are exposed to gymnastics, dance and other physical activities.

"A lot of the people come here because they are looking for a non-competitive activity for their child," said The Little Gym's director Ashley Dewey. "And they enjoy coming here because they know their child won't be pushed, forced or pressured when they're not ready."

Parents at the gym who spoke with CBS4 said they enjoyed the one-on-one time with their children and hoped the activity would give their child a leg up in the future.

"It's something that hopefully will give him an advantage, as far as his ability to interact and do things in a sports setting," said Eloi Munoz, father of Calixto.

"My husband and I hope that this will cultivate an interest in him (to have) a life long love of activity," said Jennifer Cellucci whose son Michael is enrolled at the gym.

Parenting experts say that is a healthy approach to childhood sports.

Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon Michael Jofe, with Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, said some parents, however, try to groom future athletes before they can walk which can lead to problems.

"We're seeing adult style injuries in young children which we never used to see," said Dr. Jofe.

"I was fast walking in line at dance and it just popped out," said Rachel Levi who injured her knee.

Eight year old Rachel, who lives in Pembroke Pines, has been dancing since the age of four. She also regularly plays basketball and tennis. Her mother, Gail, said all that activity has begun taking a toll.

"She was complaining that her knee was bothering her so we took her to the doctor finally to check out what's going on and she has a condition called patella sublexation which is a loose knee cap," said Levi.

"I was totally in tears because I was going to miss dance," said Rachel.

After trying several different approaches to treat the condition, including wearing a cast, Rachel ended up at Memorial Regional Hospital's U-18 Rehab program. She now does exercises at home to strengthen her knee.

"If it doesn't work and she keeps having episodes of the knee cap slipping out they could do surgery on her which I find hard to believe on an 8 year old," said Levi.

It's no surprise to Dr. Jofe who said he's seeing more and more ligament and bone injuries which could affect a child's development. He had this advice for parents.

"I think it's reasonable to involve children in sporting activities as soon as they want to but organized sports should be reserved for junior high and high school students," said Dr. Jofe.

Dr. Jofe and the staff at The Little Gym both agree that sports should be fun for kids, not a competition, because activity is important to combat childhood obesity.

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