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Chicago Daily Herald
Parents: Stop 'professionalizing' youth sports
You have children who are striving to be the next Jake Arrieta or Kyle Schwarber. Whether it's pitching a shutout or hitting a home run, they live and breathe the game and dream of making it to the big leagues.
As a supportive parent, what do you do? Instead of signing them up for multiple baseball leagues throughout the year and hitting the batting cages in your spare time, it's in your best interest - and theirs - to encourage participation in other sports.
The truth is, today's kids are specializing in one sport too early in life. Besides the obvious love of the sport, this is happening for several reasons. It may be that parents just want them to excel, or their coaches see potential, or someone is planning ahead for college scholarships. This "professionalization" of youth sports is turning into an epidemic.
Playing one sport too often puts your kids at greater risk for injury. Repetitive use of the same muscles, joints and ligaments puts severe stress on them. As an orthopaedic surgeon, I am seeing more and more ligament injuries around the shoulder and elbow from repetitive overhead activity, stress fracture injuries of the shin and hip from over training, and overuse growth plate injuries.
Here are tips to protect your children from these kinds of injuries:
* Create a reasonable practice schedule.
Children should not play a sport more than six days a week. Resting is essential to maintaining the health and vigor of the body and preventing injury. Also encourage them to take off one month a year. Maybe it's during the summer when your family goes on a vacation, or during the winter when the bitter temperatures settle in. Whenever it is, make sure that they have that break.
* Consider cross-training.
Even USA Hockey encourages its players to get involved in other sports. Participating in a variety of sports will help your children use different muscle groups. For example, tennis, soccer and cycling all engage distinct areas of the body. Your kids will be more well-rounded athletes if they cross-train.
* Remind them of the reason they joined the sport in the first place.
Always tell your kids that it's not about you or the coach, but about them learning something new and having fun. Pressure from outside sources can be detrimental, so make sure they truly enjoy themselves when playing their sport.
Chances are, these tips will improve your kids' health in the long run and help them avoid serious injuries that could ruin their dreams of playing professionally - or even recreationally.
* Dr. Diego Villacis is an orthopaedic surgeon at the NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute.
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