Intensive training in young athletes



In the past decade an increasing number of children are taking part in organized sporting activities, undergoing intensive training and high level competition from an early age. Although there are evidence found by researchers that training in young children may foster health benefits, many are injured as a result of training, and often they are injured quite seriously as well.

At our stretch therapy practice we see these children and sometimes dealing with these injuries are far from simple.

We need to look at the physical, cardiovascular and muscular effects that intensive training have on these youngsters and what will be the best ways of dealing with these effects.

The two major problems with injured children are the psychological effect of peer pressure and the “catch them when they are young” philosophy in the talent identification process.

This leads to the following questions:
Should young children participate in intensive training and high level performance?
Are children involved in intensive training at a higher risk of injury?
Can psychological problems arise from intensive training at an early age?

In a short summary…

Physical, cardiovascular and muscular effects:
Studies showed us a variety of effects; from growth retardation, certain ill effects to no effects at all.

It is known that physical activity is very essential in normal growth development and exercising for children also showed positive effects on muscle and lung functions.
Although all side effects mentioned was only found in the case of intensive competitive training.

Sport injuries:
Studies have shown that between 3% and 11% of school aged children are injured each year due to sports activity. For example permanent joint damage in child gymnastics associated with recurrent sprains and dislocations.

During the growth spurt of a child the imbalance in flexibility and strength will cause injuries when engaging in intensive exercises. The long term effects on bone development has also shown to worsen in high intensity training but to better in low intensity training and play.

Psychological effects:
Young competitors experience increased levels of stress and anxiety due to competition; the outcome of this can be influenced by the parents. Studies indicated that children can be more aggressive and narcissistic with a recent call for complete ban of per-adolescent competition.

Physical activity and play can have a very positive effect on per-adolescent children, but intensive training and high level competition has only shown adverse effects on the child’s development and psychological condition.

(A Summary of an article published by the British journal of sports medicine)

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