By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
- When athletes play both high school and club sports it becomes easy to exceed the recommended guidelines for yearly and weekly training loads
- Coach and athlete awareness of the guidelines is important, but parents are in the best position to monitor and modify a young athlete’s playing load to minimize the chance of an overuse injury
There’s general consensus that overuse injuries in teenage athletes can be reduced by carefully monitoring playing load for the young athletes. Recommendations have been put forth to encourage multi-sport participation, limit number of months played per year, and limit number of hours of sport participation per week as ways to reduce the risk of overuse injury.
Athletes’ behavior, however, is often different. Many teenage athletes participate in high school and club sports, often at the same time. The result is that training loads are frequently much higher than what is recommended.
A recently published study of high school and club sport coaches shows that the coaches are aware of the recommendations but are not effectively able to monitor a young athlete’s real sport behavior. The high school athletes participate in a concentrated season with higher weekly training load; the club sport athletes participate in a longer season but with lower weekly training load. The parents are likely in the best position to properly monitor their child’s training load across the year, rather than the coach.
This study, published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine is a survey of high school and club sport coaches in four Midwestern states. The survey focused on number of months played per year, as well as weekly training and competition load.
The relevance of this study is that it can be fairly easy to exceed the recommendations for sport participation in these young athletes, especially if the athlete is playing high school and club at the same time.
Current sport participation recommendations are to favor multi-sport participation rather than single sport specialization; play a maximum of 8 months out of the year; train and compete a maximum number of hours per week as the athlete’s age in years; and 30 competitions maximum per year. In the study I reference above, I’d like to note that both the high school and club sport coaches stayed within the recommended guidelines. It’s the combined participation that leads to exceeding the recommendations.
From a practical standpoint, what can be done? Let’s recognize that there’s considerable pressure on young athletes, especially the most talented ones, to participate year round and to specialize early. Let’s also recognize that it’s almost impossible for the high school and club coach to communicate with each other, nor is it reasonable for either coach to defer to the other in terms of seasonal importance.
And so… I believe it comes down to the parents to do the best they can to monitor their child’s training load. This is also difficult, as parents are not immune to peer pressure, and typical teenagers will frequently hide overuse issues from their parents until they become significant. Be aware of the recommended training and competition loads noted above and do your best to stay within the guidelines. You’ll be doing the best you can to stop an overuse injury before it happens.