Taking Time Off

Conventional wisdom says: “The best never rest.” But sports medicine research says otherwise.

Overtraining can impair performance and lead to injury. That’s why world-class athletes take their rest and recovery very seriously. And now, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine would like parents of young athletes to take rest and recovery more seriously, too.

The Society issued a position statement in January 2014 warning that “sport specialization” — intensive, year-round training in a single sport — may increase rates of overuse injury and sports burnout among young athletes.

That’s why Michael Landers, D.O., a sports medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Center for Diagnostics & Surgery, urges young athletes to diversify.

“I definitely encourage young athletes to play different types of sports, as opposed to playing one sport all year long without a break,” Landers said. For soccer players, he recommends devoting one season a year to another sport, preferably one that uses primarily the upper body, such as volleyball, baseball, swimming or tennis.

Landers notes that physicians are seeing younger and younger athletes sustain overuse injuries that were once seen only in college or pro athletes. Some overuse injuries, he adds, can lead to long-term health consequences.

“Playing a sport during the school season or the club season is fine, but doing both, and playing the same sport all year round, is setting up kids for burnout and for overuse injuries,” he said. More kids are specializing earlier in a single sport in order to win – whether it’s a college scholarship or a spot on an Olympic team. But the data shows that “earlier” isn’t always “better” for long-term success.

“Diversified sports training during early and middle adolescence may be more effective in developing elite-level skills in the primary sport due to skill transfer,” the paper notes. With the possible exception of gymnastics, figure skating and swimming/diving, “sports diversification should be encouraged at younger ages.”

To help prevent burnout, Landers also advises young athletes to take some time off now and then to relax.

“I don’t mean sitting on the couch playing video games,” he said. “But I think it’s good to do some easy running, biking or swimming as cross-training in the off-season.”

However, cross-training should not involve lifting heavy weights.

“Strength training is important, but for growing athletes, that should be limited to light weights, resistance bands, or exercises that involve lifting your body weight,” he said.

Landers also encourages young athletes to get out and play pick-up games, without having adults supervise every play.

“You need time to rest and just be a kid,” he said.

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