9 Tips To Keep Young Athletes In The Game

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Young athletes may need a little adult guidance to thrive on and off the playing field, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The AAP's Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness notes that kids and teens are increasingly involved in sports, and some young athletes are overdoing it
Training intensely can lead to injury and burnout. So to keep young athletes in the game, the AAP offers four practical tips for young athletes and their parents, doctors, and coaches.

The tips, published in the June edition of the journal Pediatrics, are as follows:

  • Keep workouts interesting; use age-appropriate games and training to keep practice fun.
  • Take time off from organized or structured sports participation one to two days per week to allow the body to rest or participate in other activities.
  • Permit longer scheduled breaks from training and competition every two to three months while focusing on other activities and cross-training to prevent loss of skill or conditioning.
  • Focus on wellness and teaching athletes to be in tune with their bodies for cues to slow down or alter their training methods.
  • Encourage the athlete to play on only one team during a season.
  • Don't increase weekly training time, repetitions of exercises, or distance by more than 10% each week.
  • Encourage the athlete to take at least two to three months away from a specific sport during the year.
  • Athletes, players, and coaches should learn about appropriate nutrition and fluids, sport safety, and avoiding overtraining.
  • If the athlete complains of nonspecific muscle or joint problems, fatigue, or poor academic performance, be alert for possible burnout, which may include physical symptoms like fatigue and lack of enthusiasm about practice or competition.

    After all, if an athlete pushes himself or herself too far, he or she may end up on the sidelines with an injury that lasts for weeks or months.

    The council also offers advice on marathons and triathlons, athletes who play the same sport on more that one team, and athletes who play several different sports.

    The council states that endurance events such as marathons and triathlons may be fine for young athletes, as long as the events are modified to be age appropriate, and the athlete is healthy and enjoys the activity. Young athletes may be at increased risk of injury or burnout if they play
    the same sport on multiple teams or if they don't take a break from athletics during the year, the council warns.

    Athletes who play several sports may be less likely to injure themselves if their sports emphasize different parts of the body. For instance, a golfer who is on the track team challenges different muscles in those two sports. But a swimmer who plays baseball emphasizes the arms and upper body in both sports.

    Weekend-long tournaments may also bring injury, with athletes playing repeatedly in a few days, the council members warn.

    Is your teen athlete burned out? What do you do to help him or her recharge? Join the talk on our Parenting: Preteens and Teens message board.

    By Miranda Hitti
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D.
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