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Children and Sports: Too Much Too Soon

The American Academy of Pediatrics says the goal of youth sports should be to “promote lifelong physical activity, recreation and skills of healthy competition.”   For many parents, however, the goal is to win at all costs.  And unfortunately, that cost often involves injuries as well as physical and emotional pain for a young athlete.

Overenthusiastic sports parents aren’t new.  As far back as 1952, the National Education Association was sounding the alarm about the “high pressure elements” of competitive sports and warning that the “exaggerated idea of the importance of sports” might be harmful to young players.

Mark Hyman, a sports journalist and author of “Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids” believes that the problem has only gotten worse. Dreams of glory and free rides to college have overzealous parents foisting their own athletic ambitions onto their children.  But by encouraging their kids to play through the pain and pushing them to their breaking points, he says parents are often doing more harm than good.

According to Hyman, statistics show that more than 3.5 million kids under the age of 15 end up in a doctor’s office each year for injuries sustained playing sports – about half due to overuse.  And all of this pushing, pain and suffering is usually for nothing.  Only a handful of every 1,000 high school athletes ever make it to the big leagues.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that in addition to pushy parents, the current trend toward year-round sports seasons has contributed greatly to the rising numbers of sports injuries in children.  They recommend that young players have one to two days off from playing, practicing and training every week.  In addition, they say children and adolescents should play just one sport per season and have a two or three month break each year.

But as Hyman points out, even knowledgeable parents like himself can can get caught up in the game and forget that it is, in fact, just a game.  Does this sound like you?  Or someone you know?

Image: Ed Yourdon/Flickr

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