Guest Author - Gwenn Schurgin O´Keeffe, M.D. , F.A.A.P.
Curt Schilling has one. So does Manny, Mia Hamm, Tom Brady, and college athletes. What about your young athlete?
What is the mystery thing? An off season.
And it is a mystery. It’s a mystery why pros have one and youth athletes don’t. It’s a mystery why coaches and parents refuse to acknowledge the reams of data proving youth sports are out of control. And, it’s an ever bigger mystery why community based coaches, and parents, fail to heed the cries of these athletes whose bodies and minds are screaming out that enough is enough by record numbers of injury rates and emotional burnout.
The concept of an off season is simple. Work hard while in season but work differently off season. That’s why you see so many pros playing golf off season! Brian Grasso, Executive Director of the International Youth Conditioning Association notes “The off-season is important, so much so that true athletic development and the ascension to becoming a better athlete isn't possible without one.”
“The key”, notes Grasso, “is to make sure that people understand the notion of off-season not as completely devoid of exercise or even competition, but more accurately a re-characterization of the activity stimulus that young athletes encounter. Simply put, play a different sport. Participate in no organized sports, but remain informally active.”
Eric Cressey, strength and conditioning specialist at Excel Sport and Fitness in Waltham, who has trained all levels of athlete from youth level to elite, shares Grasso’s perspective: "The in-season period is the ideal time to develop the player, but the rest of the year should focus on developing the athlete. This should take place at the Olympic and professional levels making it even more important at the youth levels. The off-season is a time to escape from competition and focus on preparing the body in a general sense for what's ahead."
The proof for the need in an off season lies in the injury rates seen in youth sports.
Dr. Pierre D’Hemecourt, Pediatric Orthopedist at Children’s Hospital Boston, has seen “an exponential rise” in overuse and repetitive use injuries over the last decade. Dr. D’Hemecourt explains that many sports have been well studied and the injury rate does increase if participation is beyond 15 hours a week for most sports. For example, if little league baseball players play for longer than 9months a year, shoulder injuries rise. Like Grasso and Cressey, he feels lack of free play and cross training are the culprits. To add insult to injury, kids are also not being allowed to heal properly after an injury. The pros have a disabled list. Why not youth sports teams?
That’s the question we all have to ask ourselves well before our kids burn out. Considering how few kids play sports beyond middle school and into adult life, is this really worth it so young? Perhaps we should be focusing on life long fitness in a different form? Something to ponder.