Orthopedic practices are seeing more sports-related injuries, despite fewer children participating in organized sports.
According to the National Alliance for Youth Sports, 70 percent of children in the United States have stopped playing organized sports by the age of 13 because "it's just not fun anymore." When asked why, the children usually cite coaches and parents as reasons.
Dr. Albert Knuth, pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Advocate Children's Hospital, says there are two things we should consider.
"First, when we have proven the lifelong physical, social, emotional and academic benefits of sports participation, why are we having so many children not participating?" asks Knuth. "Second, we have 3.5 million sports injuries each year; an estimated 50 percent are from overuse, which physicians believe are preventable. How can we help these children better participate?"
Knuth notes that this is a particularly important time to address these concerns.
"When almost 20 percent of same age children are now obese, we need our children to be participating in sporting activities more than ever," Knuth said. "We need to put the 'play' back into playing sports. To encourage children to continue participating, we need to praise them for their efforts not the outcome of the game."
Why are the number of overuse injuries increasing, when fewer children are participating?
The system now encourages specialization and year-round sport participation at an earlier age. There are many families putting a lot of time, energy, and financial resources into their children's sport career. Many of these children are physically gifted, but the risk of overtraining is great.
"Parents need to understand that overuse injuries can have permanent repercussions," Knuth said. "I've had high school pitchers ruin their arm before freshman year is even over."
Knuth offers these tips to parents about children and sports. Your child should:
• Spend fewer hours a week in sports participation than their age in years
• Be on no more than one sports team per season
• Not specialize in a single sport
• Take 2-3 months off each year from training and competition in his or her primary sport.
• Participate in sports less than 5-6 days per week
• Not be encouraged to "play through pain."
"It is always good to pause and ask your child, what is your goal in playing sports?" says Knuth. "Only 6 percent of high school athletes will play sports in college. Only 1-2 percent of college athletes will play professionally. Ultimately, if our goal is to raise healthy well-balanced individuals, hard work during sports participation, regardless of the outcome, is what parents and coaches need to focus on."
• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Advocate Children's Hospital. For more information, visit www. advocatechildrenshospital.com.