Overtraining, the New Normal in Youth Sports 8/16

By John Derington, MS, ATC The University of Kansas Health System
Posted: August 16, 2018 - 5:27 PM

In this first Tips from the Trainers article University of Kansas Health System Sports Medicine and Performance Center's John Derington, MS ATC talks about overtraining in young athletes.

As an athletic trainer, I am most interested in preventing injuries. Overtraining is something I have seen in recent years – especially in Johnson County, Kansas. It really frustrates me because it causes so many preventable injuries. Overtraining can occur in several different forms, but there are a couple of examples that stand out: playing club sports while playing an in-season sport in high school and playing only one sport year-round without allowing for functional strengthening and recovery.

Dual sports
Being a dual-sport athlete is not supposed to mean playing two in-season sports at the same time. With the pressure on today’s youth to always be doing something active and focus on a single sport from a young age, it can be difficult for athletes to take breaks from athletics. But they must!

During high intensity exercise (which is what occurs in sports), our muscles begin to break down. Protein synthesis and the rebuilding process then take place over a couple of days until our muscles are back where they were before the breakdown. The biggest problems occur when we interrupt that process with more damage caused from more high intensity exercise of the same or similar muscle groups. During my first year at a high school in this area, three starters for the volleyball team experienced ACL sprains. I found out that each girl played club soccer more than three times a week in addition to daily volleyball.

I firmly believe athletes should only play one competitive in-season sport at a time.

It’s common to think that if all kids ever did was play a preferred sport year-round they would be an elite athlete by the time they were a teen. This is just wrong!

Well, kind of wrong. Although it’s important to put ample time and study into a preferred sport, the best athletes can play a variety of sports at a high level. Each sport helps develop different muscle groups and add to what I call functional strength.  I define functional strength as the ability to powerfully control your own body during high-intensity, non-neutral positions. The greater your functional strength, the greater chance you have of avoiding noncontact catastrophic injuries like strains, sprains, and broken bones.

If athletes are limited to only one sport, it’s nearly impossible for them to develop a high level of functional strength. Athletes need to participate in a variety of dynamic exercises and sports (even if only recreationally) to allow their muscles to develop fully so they can have the best control.

What to do
First, don’t let your ego get in the way of taking care of your body. Just because Jimmy plays three in-season sports on top of his four club teams doesn’t mean it’s good for his body or that you should try to keep up with him. Remember this behavior can lead to some of the most severe sports related injuries. Second, don’t think that only playing golf and hitting 1,000 golf balls every day year-round will make you an elite golfer.

Although continually practicing one sport will certainly improve your skill, it can also limit your development of muscle strength and control. Exploring multiple sports and dynamic activities is an asset for your athleticism. Even if it means taking some time away from practicing your preferred sport.

For more sports medicine articles and information on the Sports Medicine & Performance Center at the University of Kansas Health System, go to sportstmedicine.kansashealthsystem.com or follow @KUSportsMed on twitter.




The University of Kansas Hospital Sports Medicine Archive