Why resting more, balancing out team sports with single/solo sports, days off, lying down, doing nothing and tuning out will feed that sporty beast endlessly more than any alternative, over-doing-it scenario.
Five Easy·ish Things to Keep Kids Playing Sports Longer and Healthier
- Rest more, do less, lie down, veg out – this applies to ALL OF US!
- Be Social: Help and encourage your kid to mix up his/her days with socializing because Personal Happiness = Success in Work, School, Sports (however you define it)
- Don’t overschedule so kids and you can in fact rest and be more social.
- Be in Charge: Even with the most headstrong, self motivated little one, force them to rest and take days off
- Teach Kids to Self Assess – make them aware of minor aches before they get worse!
Part I – Let’s get UNphysical and Instead of Leaning in… Lie Down! (full credit given to Ali Wong for this genius concept)
I was recently sitting at a hospital specializing in complicated injuries. I held my child close in a scary waiting room filled with wide-eyed, often pained children, and equally if not more frightened parents. Long story short, one of my kids had a crazy, awkward fall and subsequent injury…. oddly having nothing to do with sports. We’re now heading down a long road filled with specialists, surgery, and rehabilitation. Luckily she is only ten, and as we all know and repeat often, kids are resilient. We also have perspective as a family and repeat over and over, while we know an injury of this sort can feel soooo daunting kiddo, it could always be worse. Period full stop. That said, it’s hard to explain to an active kid that now they basically have to be a bubble-child and can’t go near anyone, anything, and any chance of even a bump to the injury location could create long term damage… so sit down! Don’t move! Be careful! Blah blah blah.. Totally easy for a kid to take that on, right?
I can only imagine what a major injury or forced time on the sidelines would be like for a kid who is deep into sports and or even worse, a child considered an “elite” athlete. I recently heard from a mom who used this term and mentioned her elite athlete daughter felt her injury was akin to a death. The parents were so worried about the psychological effects her injury has had on her they’ve elicited the help of expert child therapists and I’m happy to report it’s working wonders.
Ironically, right when my kid got hurt, I had been doing work on the concept of burnout for children. Physically, mentally, emotionally and all the other areas in between. It’s certainly not a new topic for an American audience, especially for those in Fairfield County and surrounding areas that mirror our Type-A youth sports pursuits. I think burnout, fatigue, emotional struggles and injuries, as they relate to our children and sports, are arguably some of the most important topics we all could keep learning and learning about, and still not quite have a grasp of. At the very least, however, there are some great preventative tools and experts that can get this awareness ball rolling.
Like so many things that entice, try Moderation. Take it down a notch physically before someone gets hurt.
Sports and competitive activities in general, are often described as “intoxicating” for a child. It’s not just the parents on the sidelines who get fired up at the game or sadly the results, the kids love it too. How could they not? It’s fun, you get attention, hard work pays off, hormones get released, the team becomes a unit, and if it’s a solo sport and you win – you get a trophy all for yourself! You’re number one! You may even start to get an individual ranking. Who doesn’t want a ranking in life? That’s gotta feel good. Imagine you were ranked in the top forty parents on the East Coast? Amazing. Yes, please. I’d take that accolade any day. Heck, I’d take the top 100,476,300th.
The problem is, and there are many to unpack with these topics, a child may lead you to the well so to speak, but we then need to decide about feeding that beast. We are the parents. We are in charge. I hear all too many times “this is what he wants to do…” or “I can’t stop it, she’s obsessed with (fill in sport here)!”
I’m the first to own the fact that I’ve said that so many times as well. I have a kid in love with hockey. He’s obsessed. He loves an ice rink. Loves the speed, the game, the everything… but if I’m going to be intellectually honest, we were the ones who first took him to an ice rink. He didn’t snap his fingers and land there, or magically find a helmet and gloves on the hockey laden streets of New York. And even crazier, neither of us skate! No one’s even Canadian! He showed some interest because another little boy in school talked about it, came home, said “I want to play hockey” and we rolled out the red carpet for him. Boom.
We all do it. Could be hockey, dancing, lacrosse, squash, underwater basket weaving, whatever. We made it happen for our “obsessed” seven year old. But let’s be real. How obsessed could a little kid really be. They get obsessed with fruit loops or Mindcraft, that doesn’t mean we give them endless junk cereal (unless you live with us) or let them play video games instead of going to school. Our son didn’t wander into the backyard and magically turn his feet into skates. We played a big part.
So now that the train has left the station and it’s seven, eight years later, our pre-pubertized young man (that’s my word and by no means a technical one) needs a plan and a management team that’s in sync. Some of us think he’s overdoing it. He’s possibly an overskated, overhockey-d, perhaps overscheduled kid, who often comes home and says his body hurts him. all. over … So the parent that worries is obviously right. He needs to rest more, and hyper focus less. And since everyone is in agreement in our house, life is easy and simple, right!?
Where the physical can meet the mental and emotional:
I recently spoke to another parent who has an incredibly talented, self-motivated, focused child-athlete around fourteen, who suffered a bad actual sports related injury. Over the last winter season he sat out from his favorite sport for over two plus months healing. To her surprise however, she relayed it was a real blessing. He was happier and more engaged than ever. Suddenly she realized he needed more friends, a more balanced social life, and a true break from the daily grind of his “training.” She mentioned that this new formerly underdeveloped side of him blossomed and as a family, they’ve rethought how intense of an “elite” athlete he really needed to be. And maybe it would be better for him to stay home, eat fruit loops, call a girl and just be a kid.
What can you actually do before a physical injury; Resting and Early Preemptive Intervention
Dr. Christopher Mah has trained in chiropractic medicine, physical therapy and has been working with professional athletes for eighteen plus years He is part of Greenwich Sports Medicine, a practice based in Greenwich. We were recently talking about the overworked, overscheduled kid, but I specifically asked about what to do before an injury. He said the following about resting, and early preemptive intervention: “Early assessment of your muscular skeletal health is equally as important as assessment of your dental health. Teaching kids to brush their teeth is the same as understanding your body.”
It’s also been said by many health professionals that a healthy heart “works out” for twenty minutes, three to four times a week. Considering how overworked, overcommitted we and our families are, this sounds just about right.
Self assessment for those unable to see someone like Dr. Ma or a local physical therapist or trainer, is not out of reach at all. There are countless instructional videos online that show you and your child how to stretch and how to examine muscles and sides of one’s bodies that may need a little more TLC. Making kids aware of what aches or what feels stiff is so crucial in teaching them to be body aware, and self advocates. We are the parents, yes, but we often don’t know what hurts, especially if it’s a minor pain or ache. Getting kids in touch with their bodies, moving and stretching them early on, is crucial in avoiding injury down the road. And if you’re lucky enough to have access to a specialist supervising, I personally found it was a great way to get my resistant child to focus on his body. In a few visits it made him more aware of why things hurt so he can advocate for himself and opt for resting. He can take a day off or more, completely checking out and preemptively keep his body safer than drilling it into the ground! Happy to report it’s already working.
Dr. Nancy Fazzinga – a fairfield county pediatrician with a not only a medical background, but a vast knowledge of youth sports, a parent, and a parent of a competitive athlete recently said this: “I encourage kids to be multisport athletes and delay specializing in one sport so they have an opportunity to use and strengthen different muscle groups. This lowers the risk of injury. If a patient is older and does decide to concentrate on one sport – I encourage rest days (or days off) each week to decrease the chance of injuries and burnout.”
I’ve already exhausted the page and there are still endless more topics and ideas to delve into. It would be great to hear what others think and have gone through from the physical to the emotional and all the areas in between.
Next up…. Part II: a deeper dive into single sports versus team sports, do we have to specialize? What are the benefits and burdens of both and what can we learn from parents and coaches who have done this longer.
Dr. Christopher Mah can be reached at Greenwich Sports Medicine
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The Local Moms Network
GreenwichMoms.com – Sports Column
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