How Much is Too Much for Kids in Sports?

Share This: 

Neenah Fun Run Ribbon

By Angela Krahn, SPT
MotionWorks Student Physical Therapist Intern
Carroll University

The pressure to succeed early and often in sports is overwhelming in today’s society. While it seems like a noble cause, since more than one third of children in the United States are overweight or obese, the pendulum can easily swing the wrong way on a child by child basis when sports and athletics are over-emphasized. It is difficult to walk the fine line between allowing our youth to live a sedentary lifestyle versus pushing our youth to become too involved too early in too many formal athletic endeavors.

Children that participate in a variety of sports have better chances of participating in life long fitness compared to children who only play one sport. Kids develop coordination between 7 and 14 years of age, which means that dabbling in several different types of sports involving different motor skills will only enhance their overall athleticism. In fact, the National Association for Sports and Physical Education states that young athletes under the age of 15 should not specialize in one specific sport as this poses more risks than rewards. Early specialization in a single sport will not only lead to burnout (which will affect the child's performance), but can also impede a child's development and interests in other sports that he or she may enjoy even more.

Kids Playing Baseball

A recent study done by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPRD) showed that 80% of children involved in one specialized sport will no longer play that sport by the age of 13, due to the child losing interest or suffering from an injury. Another study of kids in baseball found that children who spent fewer days playing baseball also suffered injuries less frequently compared to children who played year round.

In addition to playing more than one sport, it is important to give young children time off from all organized sports. This allows the child to simply be a kid and play with his or her friends as well as develop social skills outside of sports.

Another potential pitfall of kids’ participation in athletics are kids who participate in more than one sport or on several different teams in the same sport at the same time. A timely example of sports that can easily be over-done during the short seasons of spring and summer is baseball and softball. One recent study found that children who excelled the most in baseball (later became professional players) actually played 9 months or less out of the year, with several rest days each week during the season. Abiding by pitch counts that have been established for young baseball and softball players is critical to prevent injuries. Be careful of counting not only pitches in competitions such as games and tournaments, but also pitching with friends, pitching coaches, during practice, and in the backyard with mom or dad. The following tables contain guidelines for the number of pitches each athlete should be allowed to pitch per day total (in the game and outside of the game) based on age.

Baseball (Overhand)
Age Pitches/Game
7-850 
9-1075 
11-1285 
13-1695 
17-18105
Source: Little League Baseball
Softball (Underhand)
AgePitches/GamePitches/Day
Days 1&2
Pitches/Day
Day 3
8-1050800
10-1265950
13-148011580
15 & Over100140100
Source: Stop Sports Injuries

 

How do we keep our youth active and enjoying sports participation? The first step is to be an advocate and get children involved in several different sports. Playing one sport per season is plenty for most children; in fact, most children need a break in between sport seasons. Keep sporting activities fun by reinforcing the goal of the sport as enjoyment while participating versus winning every time. Instead of asking, “Did you win?” try asking, “Did you have fun?” A sport should never feel like a job to the child, as only .4% of high school athletes will ever play professionally. If a child is not passionate about something, try a different sport that the child may enjoy more. Experts suggest that specializing in one sport should not occur until the child is about 15 years old. It is important to involve the child in deciding how aggressively he or she wants to pursue a particular interest to avoid burnout and help kids to maintain a positive impression of sports and recreation for a lifetime.

References:

1. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. (May, 2013). A Guide to Safety for Young Athletes. Retrieved from: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00307

2. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. (August, 2012). High School Sports Injuries. Retrieved from: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00056

3. Brenner, J., (2013). Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes. Retrieved from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/6/1242.full

4. Haefner, J. (2014). Breakthrough Basketball: Can Summer Basketball Lead to Injuries, Emotional Burnout, and Diminishing Skills? Retrieved from: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/coaching/summer-basketball.html#ixzz2xekghXJc

5. National Association for Sports and Physical Education. (2014). Sport Position Statements. Retrieved from: http://www.aahperd.org

6. Stop Sports Injuries. (2014). Keeping Kids in the Game for Life. Retrieved From: http://www.stopsportsinjuries.org/

7. Weisenberger, L. (April, 2011). Limiting the pitch count for young athletes. Retrieved from: http://www.aaos.org/news/aaosnow/apr11/clinical6.asp