“How much is too much?”
It is one of the most common questions we receive from concerned parents when their children get serious about sport.
When a child has a healthy interest in sport, sometimes it can be difficult to get them off the court and the ball out of their hands. As with many things in life, balance is important and parents are tasked with the role of trying to encourage the enthusiasm of youth whilst knowing that too much may be putting that child at risk of injury.
In some sports, athletes can now receive national rankings from the age of 10. A phenomena that leaves me perplexed. Who can tell me what Roger Federer was doing aged 10? More importantly, who cares? But I digress.
This issue becomes more apparent as the “professionalism” of sport filters into the junior ranks. Where athletes are encouraged into single sport specialisation. Which brings high intensities and volumes of training at increasingly younger ages.
The biggest predictor of future injury is previous injury. So as an elite junior transitions to more senior sport, undoubtedly, the biggest consideration is injury prevention.
When young age, sport specialisation and high training volumes combine – they are at high risk.
An article from 2017 in the Strength and Conditioning Journal discussed this dilemma. How much is too much?
Interestingly, the article concluded that junior athletes tolerate surprisingly high volumes of sport – but only if the load was tempered by significant rest periods between seasons and a limit on sports specialisation until the late teens.
Of importance was the finding that injury prevention strategies and conditioning should form part of the training program.
The recommendations of this study outline that a mixture of structured sports and unstructured play is very important in junior athletes. The study found the time spent playing structured sport should be no more than twice the time spent participating in unstructured play.
In terms of the total volume of the number of hours spent playing structured sport (training plus match play) – it should be less than the child’s age in years and should not exceed 16 hours per week for late teens. So a ten year old athlete can play up to 10 hours of structured sport a week, but an 18 year old should not exceed 16 hours.
Time off is very important. The recommendations within this research suggests that time off between seasons and time off through the year is vital. The findings suggest that junior athletes should have at least 3 months away from structured sport each year (not necessarily in a row) and at least one month between seasons for the best outcomes with regard to injury prevention.
When it comes to specialisation, the research suggests that this should be limited until the athlete reaches late teens. Athletes should participate in different sports throughout the year, but not necessarily more than one sport at a time.
Clearly, the recommendations in the paper are one view and general in nature. Recommendations will change based on numerous individual variables including gender, developmental progression and the actual sports involved. Should you have any queries about your child’s participation in sport and injury prevention, please talk to our team at Camberwell Sports and Spinal Medicine.
About the Author
Travis Bateman is an Osteopath, trail runner, mountain biker, habitual back of the pack finisher and founder of Camberwell Sports and Spinal Medicine. His clinical interest is in movement analysis and its relationship to injury management, pain and sports performance.
Jayanthi, Neeru A. MD; Dugas, Lara R. PhD, MPH, 2017, The Risks of Sports Specialization in the Adolescent Female Athlete, Strength & Conditioning Journal: April 2017 – Volume 39 – Issue 2 – p 20–26
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