In a world of travel ball and year-round practices, the pressure on young athletes is higher than ever. While consistent development can help a child hone their skills, it also can lead to overuse injuries, a danger that can ruin your kid’s season, or worse, future in sports.
Equally as damaging is the risk for burnout, resulting in a lifetime of resenting the sport (or you!).
As a parent how can you identify when you child has had enough physically and/or emotionally? Here are four warning signs:
Pain: Minor aches and pains are a normal part of sports, but when the symptoms don’t go away within a few days with standard treatment (rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication), a more serious problem may be present.
“If your child has lingering pain, he or she should be evaluated by a qualified orthopaedic or sports medicine professional,” said Ryan J. Krupp, M.D., director, Norton Sports Health. “Not taking action can turn a few weeks of discomfort into months or even years of pain.”
According to Robin Curry, M.D., Norton Women’s Sports Health, kids should not be practicing more than 18 to 20 hours per week. As practice hours increase, so does the risk of overtraining or injury.
Changes in behavior: Even if your child doesn’t come out and say it directly, changes in behavior can often indicate burnout. Some signs include fatigue, lack of motivation and irritability.
It’s extremely important for parents and coaches to be sensitive to changes in motivation, attitude and energy among young athletes, all of which may be a natural consequence of youth sports but could possibly indicate staleness or burnout,” said Vanessa Shannon, Ph.D., director of mental performance, Norton Sports Health and University of Louisville Athletics. “Be cognizant of their behavior and sit down and talk with your kids if you notice any of these changes.”
Poor eating habits or drastic changes in diet: The tween and teen years are a time when body issues can arise, and even though your athlete is burning lots of calories on the field, he or she may start cutting back on food. This is more common for girls (though boys can fall victim too).
Not only can this lead to disordered eating, but it also can make the child prone to stress fractures or lead to lifelong issues such as a decrease in overall bone density. It’s essential for girls and boys to understand they need to increase their calories as they increase activity.
If you see your child changing his or her eating habits, talk to them about what’s prompting the change or seek advice from your child’s physician.
It’s no longer fun: The most important (and often overlooked) aspect of playing sports is the enjoyment your child gets out of it. Is he or she still having fun? Much of this falls on how they perceive fun.
“If young athletes are raised to believe that fun comes from playing and winning, and they don’t get playing time and never win, then sports will not be fun,” Dr. Shannon said. “However, if their enjoyment comes from the hard work, skill development, self-accomplishment and camaraderie, then they’re likely to have fun for as long as they decide to play.”
The best advice: Talk with and listen to your child. If they truly aren’t having fun, then it’s time to consider other alternatives.
To learn more about helping your child athlete succeed, visit Norton Sports Health.