Tag Archives: Sport

Pushing Our Kids = Sport Injuries

pitcher

This week I’m finishing up an article for a Los Angeles healthcare magazine about youth sport injuries. When I first started this article, I had no idea that it would haunt me as much as the articles I wrote earlier this year on stressed out kids and childhood diabetes. There seems to be an invisible link fueling these three varying topics and intuitively it has to be our American culture. We are a society stewing in a pressure cooker of stress: too many obligations, long work hours, financial strain and the need to succeed. Of course our children feel this pressure cooker environment every bit as much as we do—perhaps more so. And they are navigating through it as best they can.

Since it’s no longer safe for kids to ride bikes freely or play in their hood like we did as children, there’s no wonder that organized sport has taken off. But when more than 35 million kids under 14 years of age are undergoing surgery or other medical treatments for sport injuries—we need to take a step back. (BTW, that statistic is from a 14-year-old study—so likely the number is even higher.)

This week I listened to two well-known orthopedic surgeons in Los Angeles explain to me the type of injuries they treat in patients as young as 8. Can you imagine ACL surgery at 8? But think about it, some children start group sports or club sports as early as 5 or 6. I learned an interesting tidbit from one physician who works with elite athletes…that baseball scouts aren’t as interested in signing pitchers from California anymore. Want to know why? Because Californians are known to work out longer and harder year-round. Our athletic culture, mixed with coaches and parents who like to take advantage of the year-round nice weather, creates exhausted and injured teenagers.

When a pitcher doesn’t get a break to rest—especially those who have been playing since elementary school—they will likely have sustained some serious injuries by the time they are 18. Even professional athletes take a few months off each season. Our children with growing bones and muscles—who may or may not have entered puberty—need time off to rest.  (And kiddos who start throwing curve balls early, or who just pitch too often, find themselves injured in middle school. See This New York Times article on the topic.)

As I mentioned, part of the problem is that young children are still growing and they all differ on timing of puberty. One child’s physique at 14 may be much different than another’s. Obviously, that means that not all kids under 14 can be expected to do 100 push ups at a practice—or whatever benchmarks certain coaches have. Physicians emphasize, however, that it’s not varying from routine in sports that can create ACL injury and even alter bone growth in children’s hips. It’s just not safe on ligaments and muscles and bones when repetitive motions are done year-round.

So the kid that focusses on one sport early on and joins a club team that doesn’t allow for proper breaks year-round, will likely sustain “overuse” injuries. This kid who loves the game, and whose parents may have fostered hopes for scholarships, might actually not be as competitive in high school as the child who only played six months a year, took breaks, and enjoyed a variety of sports.

It makes sense. Physicians whose studies show pediatric overuse injuries rising, have helped organized sport organizations create limits: such as a baseball pitching limit per season.

According to a New York Times article on the topic, Little League has established pitch count limits per game and recommended days of rest for pitchers ages 9 to 18. The United States Cycling Federation has imposed gear-ratio limits for riders ages 10 to 16. U.S.A. Swimming recommends the number and length of weekly sessions for various ages of competitive swimmers.

Youth soccer fields are now smaller and baseball bases put closer together for youth games.

While these are advancements—they don’t really change the culture do they? Look at the picture I posted with this story. It’s of a very small child, trying to throw a curve ball. It was posted on Flickr by his parent bragging about the kid’s moxie. I found hundreds of pics of little kids throwing curve balls with posts underneath them from grandparents or parents all saying things like: “That’s my boy!”

Dancers and gymnasts put in grueling hours and sometimes starve themselves to meet their coaches favor. We all know stories about kids who work hard to become Olympic hopefuls or college athletes. It’s encouraged by parents. And while I’m a huge proponent of getting kids in team sports and off the couch—pushing to the extreme is not a good option. Early injuries lead to earlier bouts of arthritis. Shouldn’t we just get back to the basics and have fun? Don’t we want to foster a lifestyle that embraces a lifetime of athleticism and healthy choices? And is it just me, but wouldn’t it be nice to bring back family dinner for at least two weeknight evenings instead of racing from practices to games and ordering in fast food? Seriously, how well are we really teaching our children to take care of their bodies?

Juggling Sports as a Single Parent

When you’re a single mom, juggling your children’s activities can seem overwhelming. In fact, I find myself not letting my oldest sign up for all the sports he’d like—especially not club teams—as I can’t always manage to go to all the games or pick him up late at night. It’s getting a bit easier to ask other moms to drive him home now that I’ve officially been in California four years. But in the early days, when I was first separated and taking care of a baby and a 7-year-old,  it was tremendously hard to ask strangers to take my older son home from a game. Some coaches were supportive, but others not. I guess it’s hard to imagine not having another parent or family nearby to help. But that’s the way it is for some of us, and we don’t want to punish our older children and not let them participate in the group sports that they used to, just because of a divorce or a baby sibling who needs to nap or gets sick often. Juggling activities and sports really can seem overwhelming sometimes, and I’m so thankful that it’s getting easier. When I wrote this post, I was clearly still in the trenches.

Last year, I couldn’t always cheer my oldest on at the soccer matches, for instance, as his baby brother was tantruming, or running wild and I had to monitor him. Then, occasionally, I’d have to leave mid-way through since the game times always happened at naptime. With all the other kids’ dads screaming from the sidelines, I really wanted to make sure that at least one parent was always present to cheer my son on—but it doesn’t always work that way when you’re a single parent. I know some divorced parents co-parent well, but for me, my ex lives abroad, so he’s just not here often. It was a depressing time for my oldest. I could never get him excited on game day and yet, he loves soccer.

As we move toward the school year, I’m coming up with a strategy so that game days and late practices will start to get easier for us. If you are a single parent, perhaps this list will help you as well:

  • The minute you find out  who your child’s coach is, email him and explain your situation—especially if you are juggling activities for more than one child solo. Let him/her know that you’ll make sure your child doesn’t miss any games (barring illness) but that you may need help occasionally with a lift home if your other child is playing a game elsewhere or another child is sick. Would he mind?
  • Suggest to the coach that all parents bring their own snack and water. And if he still wants each parent to volunteer to do a group snack one week, don’t feel obligated, just say you’ll bring your child’s snack and water each week. Carrying all the gear and another child up to the field and a tray of muffins is ridiculous. If you can’t get out of it, just bring a box of granola bars.
  • Get to know the parents on the team and exchange cell phone numbers as soon as possible. That way, if an emergency happens with another child, you can call a parent on the team to help.
  • Do some networking to find a great coach. Sometimes it just isn’t possible to sign up your child with a particular coach—like with AYSO, you find out who your coach is a few weeks before the season starts. But if you can, network with parents at your child’s school and find a supportive, enthusiastic coach who can help mentor your child. It’s especially important to find good role models for your kids when you’re going through a divorce.
  • Don’t do multiple sports each season. There is only one of you. Tell your children to pick one sport per season, so you’re not going out of your mind trying to make multiple games each weekend.
  • Don’t pressure your child too much about performance. This likely goes without saying, but make sure your son or daughter know that the game is about having fun. Sit him or her down at the beginning of the season and explain that you may not be able to stay for the entire game every time because of the other games of brothers and sisters or due to a baby brother’s or sister’s needs, but that you’re happy that they get to play, do their best and have FUN.
  • Show gratitude at the end of the season. This is especially important if a coach and other parents have been particularly helpful. Hire a sitter for the last game and go solo, bringing goodies for everyone if you can. It lets your child on the field, and the team, know how much you appreciate them.