Best Practice #8 – Avoid Over-Training
Have you ever sat down with your child and mapped out their athletic schedule? Take out your calendar and write out how many times they practice and for how long, and then tally the number of games and tournaments they play in a month. Do they take any days off? If they are choosing to play only one sport year-round, are they taking several months away from their sport each year? These are the kind of questions that parents need to be asking themselves to protect the health and athletic longevity of their children. In contrast to generations of parents who grew up in the 60's, 70's and 80's, a growing number of our youth in this era are participating in highly structured and frequently overly scheduled athletic environments. Few regulations exist on the amounts of training allowed in youth sports. In fact, I am unaware of any standard limits with regard to training and competing.
I often wonder how is it possible that the NCAA limits the number of practices among the Division I programs, but no such regulations exist for youth sport athletes. Frequently, in the men's game, we hear complaints about how difficult (physically) it is for teams in the final four weekend of the men's and women's national championship tournament to play the semi-final and final games with only one day break in between. As mentioned in the previous newsletter, youth sport lacrosse teams are playing up to five tournament games in back-to-back days in extreme weather conditions. Why is this OK for youth but not OK for young adults who are stronger and less vulnerable to dehydration and over-use injuries? Fortunately, USL and other sport organizations are now beginning to take a closer look at this, but the responsibility still lies on us as parents to be the gatekeepers with regard to how much our kids train. Sometimes we have to say no, you can't go to that tournament, or no, you can't play on a team that practices 5 days a week while you are also playing on another team.
While we know that specialization in one sport prior to puberty can be a risk factor for over-use injury, stress and burnout, we also know is that training too many hours is also a significant risk to the mind and body. So, what are the appropriate steps we can take to avoid over-training?
First, we need to constantly monitor our weekly schedules. Experts suggest that our kids should not train and/or compete in their sport for more than 16-20 hours in a week. Ideally, this would mean that our kids play on one sport per season. If there happens to be some overlap, then it is wise to follow these hourly restrictions so that the total amount of play doesn't exceed the 16-20 hour mark.
Second, for those of us who have children who specialize in lacrosse or another sport, they should be taking at least 2-3 months off a year from the game to allow their bodies and minds to recover.
Third, when our kids are starting a new season, we need to make sure that they increase their training and play by no more than 10% each week.
Our jobs as parents is to protect the bodies, minds and spirits of our youth lacrosse players. It is important that we attend to the big picture of their athletic careers and not get caught up in the wave of pressure to become great in a short period of time. As someone once said to me, "You wouldn't go to your first session with an athletic trainer and say, 'I want to become the incredible hulk after one meeting.'" Training and competing, while great opportunities and experiences for our youth, need to be managed with a long-term vision that keeps our kids healthy and engaged in lacrosse for a long period of time.
US Lacrosse, Inc. ©2011