The Dilemma of the Young Athlete: “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” May Mean “Beaten, Sick, and Fractured”

 

In the pursuit of excellence within the sport performance arena, there are coaches and parents who push young athletes with a desire for them to become  “bigger, stronger, faster”. Our young athletes are training harder than ever before and their bodies are paying the price.  Because of this aggressive pursuit of excellence in sport performance at a younger age; our young athletes are being beaten to exhaustion, over-trained to sickness, and fractured into pieces.  Dr. Letha Y. Griffin, an Atlanta-based team orthopedist at Georgia State University, and a staff physician for Peachtree Orthopaedic Clinic, suggests that “We are dealing with dedicated young athletes who are being coached to constantly improve their performance levels by coaches and parents.  This can cause the athlete to sometimes overdo it.”

 

One does not have to search too far in the media and scientific publications to see that the injury rate in youth sports is exploding to crisis proportion.  Among these examples are numerous instances of young athletes being driven and over-trained to heat exhaustion, fatigue and burnout syndrome.

 

 

Another big factor that is gaining attention among young athletes is the increase in the number of stress fractures, especially among those who participate in running-related sports.  Dr. Andrew D. Goodwillie, chief orthopedic resident with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in New Brunswick, N.J., states, “These stress fractures are associated with risks due to excessive types of training regimens and deficient dietary habits, which indicates we’re only hitting the tip of the iceberg in terms of this issue.” 

To get bigger, stronger and faster, we all know that we need to work harder at putting in more effort and pushing further than we did before. Some coaches and parents call it “pushing the limits” to acquire improved sport performance.

But, how far is pushing too far?  How far can these young athletes be pushed and trained in the pursuit of excellence within the sport performance arena? How much bigger, stronger, and faster can these young athletes get? 

This constant pushing to the limits to get bigger, stronger and faster can many times cause overtraining and lead to many young athletes becoming physically and emotionally beaten, broken and fractured.

Overtraining occurs whenever the body is pushed beyond its capacity both physically and emotionally, leading to a breakdown of a young person’s physical and mental capacities.  Such young people will have symptoms such as loss of enthusiasm, moodiness, inability to focus and loss of appetite.  They also may be more susceptible to colds and flu; have allergy symptoms; and be more susceptible to minor infections.

We live in an era where children are often forced to play on multiple club or travel teams in a chosen sport in addition to school teams.  Parents may insist on private trainers working with their children.  Children find themselves traveling thousands of miles a year to compete and may have trouble keeping up with their schoolwork.

Whether the cause is parents who want to live vicariously through their children or parents who nurse dreams of fame and riches for their child, the results can be very harmful to the development of these children.  Do we really want our children to experience their bodies and spirits breaking down by the time they are in their 20s?  It is past time that responsible adults start examining the real motives behind the desire to see children become athletic prodigies.  A child is only young for a few years and then must live with any consequences from those years for a long time.

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Dr. Ric Esposito
Dr. Esposito is the Chair of Sports Medicine at the United States Sports Academy. He has an extensive background in sports medicine, sports chiropractic and sports performance coaching at various levels from Pee Wee to Professional/Olympic caliber.  He is a chiropractic physician with professional certifications in athletic training, strength and conditioning, rehabilitation, exercise physiology, occupational health and safety, and sport safety and risk management.

 

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