Kids need a few days a week away from organized sports, she said, but they also need bigger blocks of time off, at least a couple of four-week blocks every year away where their activity is just playing casually with friends.
And for all the importance of coaches and teammates, studies show that parents really matter. “The coach-athlete relationship is incredibly important,” Dr. Logan said, but the evidence shows that parents have an even more central role in helping children get the most out of their participation in sports.
“Organized sports needs to be tailored to the child’s developmental stage, not just their age,” Dr. Logan said, so it’s particularly important to be sure that the coach is working with children in a developmentally appropriate way. Parents can play an important role here, looking at their children to see what they are developmentally ready to do, and not pushing them too early into situations that will be frustrating.
When she sees children with sports-related injuries in her practice, Dr. LaBotz said, she focuses on understanding the mechanics behind how they occurred, and how they can be prevented. “The biggest predictor for future injury is past injury,” she said. “What is it that set this kid up for injury?”
She also sees kids with chronic or overuse injuries, she said, and “I have the recovery talk over and over again.” She talks about the importance of appropriate rest, about the role that getting enough sleep plays in injury prevention, about the right amount of the right kinds of nutrition, “getting what you need from foods rather than tapping into supplements.”
Sometimes, she said, this involves explaining to parents who have come to feel that carbohydrates are to be avoided at all costs that they are in fact “the best, most effective fuel for young athletes.” She tells them that if they don’t have carbohydrates on board, “your body will break down muscle, and you’ve worked too hard to build it.”
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