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Preventing Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout: 9 Ways Parents Can Help

Overuse injuries and burnout continue to be a major problem in youth sports, with three out of 10 parents in a recent survey (Mikalide 2012) reporting that their child had sustained the same sports injury more than once.  Such repeat injuries are more common among athletes who play on three or more teams, play on multiple teams at the same time in different sports, and have missed time playing or practicing due to injury.

Multiple injuries among some young athletes highlight the need for rest to prevent overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout in young athletes.

Here are 9 ways parents can help avoid these problems:

  1. Days off every week: Encourage your child to try to take at least 1 to 2 days off per week from competitive athletics, sport-specific training, and competitive practice (scrimmages) to allow time for both physical and psychological recovery.
  2. Follow 10% rule: Advise your child that weekly training time, number of repetitions or total distance should not increase more than 10% each week (e.g. increase total running mileage by 2 miles if currently running a total of 20 miles per week).
  3. 2-3 months off from a sport every year: Encourage your young athlete to take at least 2 to 3 months away from a specific sport during the year.
  4. Keep focus on fun and skill development: Emphasize that the focus of sports participation should be on fun, skill acquisition, safety and sportsmanship.
  5. Avoid multiple teams: Nearly 7 in 10 parents (65%) of parents say their kids play on more than one team at the same time, 22% in the same sport and 43% in a different sport.  Parents should encourage children to participate on only 1 team per sports season. If they also play on a a travel or select team, then that participation should counted in setting weekly and yearly participation limits.
  6. Look for signs of burnout If your child complains of nonspecific muscle or joint problems, fatigue, or experieince a dip in grades, they may be experiencing burnout, and sitting down for a heart-to-heart talk about their sports participation may be appropriate.Soccer ball with parents in background
  7. Medical team at tournaments: Advocate for the development of a medical advisory board for weekend athletic tournaments to educate athletes about heat or cold illness, overparticipation, associated overuse injuries and/or burnout.
  8. More health, safety and nutrition education: Encourage development of educational opportunities for athletes, parents, and coaches to provide information about appropriate nutrition and fluids, sports safety, and the avoidance of overtraining to achieve optimal performance and good health.
  9. Exercise more caution for younger athletes: If you are the parent of a younger athlete, be especially cautious in allowing them to participate in multigame tournaments in short periods of time.

Brenner J. Overuse Injuries, Overtraining and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes. Pediatrics 2007;119;124.

DiFiori JP, Benjamin HJ, Brenner J, Gregory A, Jayanthi N, Landry GL, Luke A. Overuse Injuries and Burnout in Youth Sports: A Position Statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. Clin J Sports Med. 2014;24(1):3-20. 

Mickalide AD, Hansen LM. Coaching Our Kids to Fewer Injuries: A Report on Youth Sports Safety. Washington, DC: Safe Kids Worldwide, April 2012 

Posted May 15, 2012; revised April 11, 2014

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