Overtraining in Youth

Lately, a lot of our clients are bringing in their kids in the age range of anywhere from 7 to 18 years old. Coming shortly after or still during the coronavirus pandemic. Our theory for this is in part due to kids finally being able to get back out into athletics and hitting things as if they never stopped. After a year of being more inactive and playing video games. Kids have been doing things that they otherwise would not have been doing. However, they were unable to be active for the past year. 

Overtraining Needs to be Caught Early On

Overtraining is something that needs to be caught early on, because if we put too much physical and or mental strain on the youth that exceeds their capacity. They get injured, but they end up not liking being active any longer. Which has more long term potential consequences down the road. It’s easier for someone who’s been active since they were a child to maintain being active when they’re an adult.

Once you have a period of being an inactive individual, it becomes much harder. We’ve all gone through phases, even as active adults, you become more and less active. Each time you pick something back up, it gets a little harder. But imagine you know as a kid, you stop and then you try to pick it up in your 30s or 40s. That ship is a lot harder to turn then if we’re just simply able to do things that prevent our youth from developing a distaste for activity.

It’s Up to the Parents

When it comes to overtraining, a lot of this is up to the parents to be able to spot because you have great coaches out there, but you also have coaches that know nothing other than to push, push, push, push, push. We have some youth coming into our clinic that have been training six to seven days a week in the same sport for two to three hours a day.

A lot of the parents are coming to us and saying “I trust the coach, I trust they know what they’re talking about, but doesn’t this seem a little bit excessive?” The answer is yes, that’s absolutely excessive, because what you’re doing is you are loading the same structures in the same way over and over and over without any variability, especially if you’re a one sport kid. Overtraining and training in multiple different sports are two different topics, but they are pretty intertwined. 

Possible Injuries due to Overtraining

If your child is a one sport athlete, they are overloading the same structures in the same way all the time. Over time, this will cause over development of certain muscles and under development of others. Which in the long run can have negative effects for their overall athleticism. Also, when you train the same way all the time you’re loading the muscles, tendons and bones in the same way. You’re increasing your chance of getting bonier growth plate injuries, which if the child gets a growth plate injury.

The growth plate is the part of the bone that has not yet firmed up and allows the child to continue to grow and does not firm up until they’re a certain age. Now, if that growth player gets injured, the bone in its healing process actually does start firming up, which can stunt the growth of a limb. It can also just expose them to a high amount of physical and mental strain that is actually beyond their capacity. Which will end up with them burning out and not liking it in addition to the injuries. Plus, there is nothing more demoralizing to an athlete that has decided to be a one sport athlete in the hopes of getting better and better and better at that one single sport, then who keeps getting injured. 

What to Look For

The first thing to look for is persistent pain. Kids complaining about this or that every once in a while is probably pretty normal. If they complain about the same thing, over and over. And they’re not actually having a reason for that to hurt. For example, if their ankle starts hurting, and it’s not swollen. They didn’t twist it and the only thing that they’ve been doing is playing a sport. That might be a sign that they’re overtraining. A lot of parents have the tendency at first to believe that their child is exaggerating. It’s a very common occurrence. So it’s important when your child is complaining about the same thing for a prolonged period of time to investigate that.

The other thing is personality and mood changes. When they are pushed beyond their limits, they won’t be the same kid. They’ll be a little bit quieter, there’ll be a little bit more disengaged, they’ll be a little bit more tired all the time. You also might see their performance drop on the field. You might see that they just look more fatigued. They have a general malaise about them, or just not feeling well all the time. They’re more prone to getting sick. You might see that they become less enthusiastic about the sport. Or about being active for the competition. They seem to kind of lose that competitive edge that they once had and the love for the game. 

In Summary..

These are signs that your child might be going through overtraining. Or fatigue from playing one sport too much. It is pain, personality changes, decreased performance, increased fatigue, and decreased enthusiasm, the issue. The reason that this easily happens to kids is if a coach is pushing somebody really hard. A lot of the time the cardiovascular says they’re okay to keep pushing, those are really well developed. They’re not susceptible to physical force.

Meaning that it’s not the same as a bone or tendon or muscle. Which is constantly repetitively having to hit the ground and propel the child. These are things that are taking care of the oxygen systems of the body. Making sure that the muscles and the other organs and things are getting the oxygen that they need. It’s often misconstrued that if the cardiovascular system can handle it, then the musculoskeletal system can handle it. Which is not the case. 

Overtraining is More Common than You May Think!

It’s estimated that 50% of injuries that children sustained are due to overuse injuries. This is put out by the American pediatric society. It’s crazy, because this is something that is completely avoidable. There’s more often overtraining than under training in our coaching and school systems. It’s something that we hear very often from our parents. There’s a big lack of cross training or encouraging children to play in multiple sports.

Oftentimes, coaches are rather pressuring kids to be in a club sport or something of that sort all year round. Which does end up eventually narrowing their athleticism. It puts them in more danger of these overuse injuries. So those are the things to watch out for. Talk to your child, if you’re noticing these changes. Pay attention, if your child is saying that they have pain. If their performance is decreasing, and their enthusiasm is kind of waning for the sport. Sit down with them and have a talk about if it’s something they really want to continue doing. Or see if they have other sports that they want to try out. 

Think about the Bigger Picture

Often even parents have a hard time doing it because if your child is really good at a sport. They love watching! You’re living vicariously through your youth!  You see them kick butt and take names out on the field or the court. However, it’s very important that we have a long term view. If this child loses their enthusiasm for physical activity entirely and then becomes sedentary. It’s going to be much more difficult for them to pick that back up in the future. Which then puts them at more risk for developing diseases that are caused by modifiable risk factors like heart disease.

Other issues that are because of inactivity, poor lifestyle choices and or habits. It’s an important lens to look through that yes, it’s amazing to watch them play! They are so athletic and so energetic. They can play with passion and really get amazing things done. At the same time, how do you want their next 10, 20, 30 years of life to look? What are we really setting them up for? Not everybody’s going to be the next LeBron James. Taking a long term look and being realistic about what you actually want your child’s life experience to be like.