Variety is the Sport of LifeAbout a year or so ago, I took my children to the golf course. We went to the driving range for them to learn the proper way to play the game. The problem was I soon realized there was no play at all.

I could tell they weren’t having fun and I was becoming that parent. You know the pushy guy trying to live vicariously through his children. I didn’t like it and my kids liked it even less. So change of plans. Instead of making them learn on the driving range, we went out on the course and hacked away.

I’m not sure how much they learned, but we had a great time.

Unfortunately, I see too many parents who make the same mistake I made that day. They push their kids into an activity that often times ends up being harmful to a young person.

Growing up, I played sports year round. Then, sports were seasonal. I played baseball during baseball season and basketball during basketball season. That’s not the case so much these day.

Because of select sports and recreational leagues, children now play the same sport year round without getting a break from those activities. Young athletes have no variation in their activities.

Parents think they are doing what’s best for their children, but often times they aren’t. The repetitive nature of playing the same sport over a prolonged period of time creates stress and strain. Especially on growing bones.

I see kids come into my office who never have a break during the year, playing the same sport. They sometimes play on two or three different teams during the same season. It’s too much stress on their growing skeleton, causing muscle aches, strains and pain.

My advice to parents, especially for those who have children who have not yet reached high school, is get your child to play in several different sports to prevent using the same muscles year round. They say it also helps the child avoid getting burned out on that specific sport.

For kids, sports are great and you learn a lot from them, but they should be fun. Kids need to enjoy them too. You don’t really want a 12 or 13 year old performing to the point where they are having injuries that could actually impact them as an adult.

At Cook Children’s Orthopedics and SPORTS, we are seeing injuries in children as young as 8 years old with anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) injuries. Those are injuries that were once thought not to happen until children were much older.

Even if your child is lucky enough to make it to high school without getting injured, another problem is that the really good, young kids are getting left behind. They are burned out because they are pegged to be the superstar and they get over worked, over trained and over pushed. Some get burned out and pushed to the wayside and other kids, who were not as big, catch up by the time they are in middle school. They have more passion and they are not burned out. And they pass them by.

So what should a parent do? Here’s a start:

  • Give your children an opportunity to tell you if they are enjoying themselves.
  • Listen to them and let them participate in several different sports. Find the one they have the most passion for because they will be more successful, but make sure they sample a variety of sports when they are young.
  • During a year, give them down time. It’s ok to keep trained and to stay in shape, but they do need to have breaks and times during the year when they are not training for their one sport. You don’t want them going all out all the time, so they are training to constant levels of fatigue. It’s ok to take a break.
  • Vary the routine each year. If your child is staring to have lots of musculoskeletal complaints then it’s a good time to back off and work on core training or flexibility.

I understand it’s easy to succumb to parental peer pressure. I caught myself doing it on the golf course. Parents are afraid if they don’t do something their child will be left behind. But what’s most important is that your children enjoy sports, or enjoy their activities and they have a good mental outlook on life. It’s hard for parents to not live vicariously through their children. It’s a hard lesson for parents. You want the best for your child and want your child to be successful. But sometimes less is more.


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David Gray, M.D., is Medical Director of Orthopedics at Cook Children’s.