Taylor is an ambitious, three-sport, high-school senior, who plays on Wayland High School’s soccer, basketball and lacrosse teams. In addition to mastering shooting the ball, defending the hoop and cradling the lacrosse stick, Taylor is learning about the science of injury prevention.
Taylor tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the fall of 2013. Six months after surgery to repair her torn ACL, Taylor came to The Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention. Her evaluation showed she hadn’t built enough strength to return to play. But Taylor was eager to get back on the field and pushed herself to return to play.
It wasn’t long before she suffered a partial ACL tear in the same knee, and then, one year after her first ACL injury, she completely tore the same ACL.
Since then, Taylor has embraced injury prevention.
See how she fits these five sports recovery tips into her daily training.
Many parents recognize there are tremendous benefits to youth sports participation, such as building relationships with peers and coaches and developing a healthy lifestyle. But for some kids, focusing on one sport at a young age can be too much of a good thing.
Sports specialization — intense training for a single sport with exclusion of other sports — has become increasingly popular at younger and younger ages.
Researchers suggest this specialization period occurs between the ages of 6 and 12. At these ages, some common overuse pediatric injuries, such as patellofemoral pain syndrome and Osgood-Schlatter disease, are four times greater in sport-specialized athletes. Diversified sport participation promotes the development of motor skills and limits repetitive stress on kids’ growing bones.
This is why pediatric sports medicine professionals recommend athletes delay specialization until late adolescence (16 to 18 years old) to minimize risk for injury and psychological stress.
Here are some pointers to keep young athletes healthy and in the game.
Take part in recreational play.
It is important for young athletes to enjoy neighborhood games such as tag, capture the flag, kick-the-can, wiffle ball and other games. These keep kids active and promote healthy living. Performing movements that differ from a specific sport are more likely to reduce the young athlete’s risk of injury.
Even switching from ice hockey, which can focus on repetitive drills, to street hockey, which is recreational play, may lessen injury risk.
Take advantage of the off-season.
Usually there are a few weeks between the conclusion of one season and the beginning of the next. This is a great time to hang up the equipment. The athlete can focus on recovering, taking a few days off to rest and then working on some easy strength, flexibility and other modes of cardiovascular activity, including recreational play.
Participate in one sport a season.
Often young athletes participate in more than one sport a season. Before the ages of 16-18, youth should participate in a variety of different sports throughout the year and limit organized participation to one sport a season. Kicking a soccer ball differs from shooting a basketball and offers the body a variation in movement. This benefits kids because not only does the risk of injury decrease, but it also gives the athlete the ability to develop different motor skills.
Begin strength training.
Parents and coaches believe young athletes are strong from the sports they play. Sports develop strength to a certain degree, but a well-rounded strength program corrects imbalances and promotes proper movement to reduce injuries in sport. Ultimately, the stronger the athlete, the more likely she is to reduce her risk for injury.
A common misconception is that strength training means lifting heavy weights, but strength training can be as simple as a plank or a bodyweight squat. Any uniform exercise performed correctly with repetition that allows children’s muscles to respond and produce a movement will create strength.
There is no minimum age requirement to beginning strength training, but athletes should be able to follow directions and demonstrate balance.
Talk to a sport psychologist if your child seems stressed about sports participation.
A sports psychologist can be a great resource for an athlete to voice concerns about the mental components of a sport, such as preparing for tryouts, overcoming a tough loss and setting personal goals. Psychological stress can lead to an injury or burn-out. It also may result in some athletes quitting their sport at a young age.