So without relying on “Ado” to support our young athletes in Trinidad and Tobago, we must continue to advocate for athlete development from home, as we should. But we are in dire straits here, as our young athletes are getting injured earlier and earlier in their careers, and developing more severe injuries than I have seen ever before.
Just this month, I came across a 15 year old overhead athlete with a rotator cuff tear, and another adolescent cricketer with a sequestered disc in his back (the disc has broken and fragments of the disc has moved into spinal column). Yet another 15 year-old boy had surgery on his knee. These injuries are too severe for athletes this young. What is going on?
Thankfully this trend is not unique to Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, a recent U.S. national survey conducted by Safe Kids found that one in three children who play organized team sports gets injuries severe enough to require medical treatment. The numbers may be a little different in Trinidad, but I believe they are quite close or even larger, particularly in certain competitive youth club and national sports.
The study also found that 92 percent of parents rely on coaches to keep their children safe while they are playing sports. This is probably true in Trinidad as well, but I believe this is a great risk, particularly in national sports in this country. Most coaches (not all) ignore the athlete’s immediate and long-term health. Many of them push the injured athlete through pain, disregarding the physical therapist’s and physician’s guidelines. Some coaches have even forced an injured athlete into training over the restricted volume and also into activities forbidden by the rehabilitation professionals.
The end result is a young athlete who spends months in physical therapy and under the care of a physician. They are deprived of important developmental time in the period of adolescence. Time that can be spent doing school work, playing, liming and developing social skills is spent in stressful rehab, made necessary by the apathetic ignorance and egos of coaches for whom wining is their only concern.
So we cannot rely on many of our coaches for the development of our athletes and their long-term careers. We are left with the parents as the primary advocates for our young sportsmen/women. However, the Safe Kids study found that 9 out of 10 parents under-estimate how long their child should avoid training in any one sport to protect them form over-training, overuse injuries and burnout. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine recommend that children stay away from a specific sport for two to three months or even a season each year to avoid development of such conditions. It is not that they cannot play any sport during that period. They just need to rest from the demands of one sport, but can cross train and take up another sport with different movement patterns.
But many parents push their children too hard to succeed in one competitive sport. While encouragement is necessary, the high degree to which many parents in Trinidad insist on participation and excellence is pathological. It results in injury and burnout to the point where the child no longer enjoys the sport.
In the first place, children and adolescents need a variety of movement patterns in order to develop comprehensive motor skills and a balanced body. Specialization too early, as is the case with many children in Trinidad, results in muscle imbalances and overuse, which lead to injury. Massive commitment to poorly designed, over-extensive training schedules (often twice a day) leads to fatigue and stress, as time for other activities such as homework and socializing is at a minimum. I have seen it too many times at Total Rehab. Children are tired. Often the innocence of play and enjoyment of sport is lost, and the above bothersome repercussions can be seen on their face as they come to therapy after, or even early in the morning before school.
Sport for children should be recreational, and while competition is good, parents need to be careful of pushing their young athletes too hard. Many parents who come to the clinic with their child seem more invested in their children’s success than in the children themselves. Parents need not live vicariously through their children. Rather, they need to look for signs of overtraining such as fatigue, loss of interest in their sport, muscle aches and pains, injury, a possible drop in performance, insomnia, increased incidence of the cold or other sickness (decreased immunity) and even depression.
Parents need to demand more from their child’s coach, not from their child. The Safe Kids study also noted that only two in five parents know how much sports safety training their child’s coach has received. They must demand that their child’s coach be qualified. They must advocate for their children to have rest after hectic training seasons/sessions, demand proper injury prevention programs, and refuse to allow their child to train if he/she is over-trained or injured, despite threats from the coach that the child will not participate in the next game.
Keep in mind that the child may not complain about pain or fatigue. Most kids feel that a good athlete works through such sensations, but this is dangerous. Parents need to be astute and to constantly monitor their children. However, sometimes a parent can be the biggest danger to a child’s long-term career in sport.