Little Pains: How Youth Sports Yield Unexpected Results
A few weeks back, I found myself visiting seldom seen family members for a long overdue session of catch up. My nephew, at twelve, is more sporting and physically active with team sports (soccer, lacrosse, hockey, what have you) than I thought was humanly possible for someone who is not handsomely paid six figures to do so. So, upon arrival, I fully expected my nephew to be clutching a soccer ball, or restringing his tennis racket or something. Instead, he hobbled over my way with a weak-wristed handshake, while trying to maintain his balance on a new set of crutches. Apparently, he lacrossed himself into a significant groin injury that required him to be on crutches for at least a week. A groin injury for a twelve-year-old?!!
Luckily, my nephew has an orthopedic surgeon for a father, and was being constantly reminded throughout the day by his father to “take it easy” and “stay on your crutches.” However, many children who function as athletic workhorses are not so fortunate, as they often have parents who are either oblivious to their injuries, or parents so fixated on the competitive glory of their children’s athletic pursuits that they continue to push them beyond their comfort level and into sometimes serious, sometimes lifetime injuries.
This unfortunate phenomenon is exposed in author Mark Hyman’s book, Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids. As Hyman tells it, caught up in the fury of jr. competitive sports, many parents are turning children’s sports into base entertainment for adults, or worse, a vehicle for vicariously living through the repetitive stress injuries of their child. As they become further and further invested in the successes and career possibilities of their child’s “chosen sport,” many parents become blinded by their desire to see their children thrive–after numerous dislocations, hyperextensions and ruptured ligaments. And as Hymen cautions, coaches as well as children themselves are often the culprits for pushing the limits of sensibility when it comes to a child’s physical and psychological welfare.
Ultimately, children need someone to look out for them, because they can’t always look out for themselves. Granted children are not always capable of intellectually, or even physically, understanding their limits, as they are prone to get easily caught up in fulfilling expectations to the detriment of the their own well being. However, if adults continue to enable these oversights, leading to sometimes-longstanding injuries, we risk having not a generation of over achievers and trophy collectors, but a population of arthritic twenty-somethings with no athletic achievement to speak of.