Teens at breaking point

Sporting success is coming at the price of young, vulnerable bodies.

Teenage athletes are suffering permanent injuries as intense sports programmes push vulnerable bodies to breaking point.

A prominent sports doctor said he had treated teenagers with injuries to the spine, pelvis and feet, often due to a sudden increase in activity.

Dr Graham Paterson, at AXIS Sports Medicine said people who looked to the likes of Tiger Woods and tennis player Andre Agassi for inspiration believed constant practice in one sport produced success.

But repetitive movements could put children’s growing skeletons at risk of injury.

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“There are many kids who suffer injuries which means they can’t continue to pursue their – or their parent’s – dream of being a star,” he said.

Paterson, a former All Blacks sports doctor, said high pressure placed on children at secondary school level meant sports practice can suddenly triple or quadruple just as teens are experiencing their adolescent growth-spurt.

“There is an awareness that you don’t train horses when they are growing fast, you don’t make dogs run when they are growing fast, but we don’t have understanding in the community we have to look after our adolescents and take the load off a little bit.”

Many parents of injured children ask why they weren’t told of the risks, he said.

He wanted to tell parents exercise is a positive thing, but a teenagers have a better chance of succeeding and being injury-free by competing in a variety of sporting activities.

A study of gold medallists found there were more Olympic champions who specialised later rather than earlier in their teenage years.

“By doing a multiple number of different sports you’re spreading the load. You’re still building strength, diligence and coordination but you are not focused on one activity.”

AUT Millenium in Auckland is the training ground for the country’s elite athletes, but children are encouraged to specialise later in sports.

“We’re seeing more injuries coming about from kids not getting variety in their programme,” athlete development programme director Dr Craig Harrison said.

Teenagers were also under greater pressure to succeed in their chosen sport at even younger ages – the BMX World Championships accepted children from the age of six.

“Its ridiculous. We see parents pushing for their kids to go to these events,” he said.

“There’s a lot of age group competitions and parents looking to get their kids into the teams. It’s all driven from the top and commercial side where sport has gone.”

The number of programmes and expectations from individual sports had also increased, he said.

“The biggest issue we see is the lack of communication between the programmes. There is no one overseeing their weekly and long term schedules.”

AUT Millenium don’t encourage any specialisation in a sport until age 14 – an approach backed up by the research, Harrison said.

Older children who had been in structured sports from a young age missed out on creative play and lacked fundamental athleticism, he said.

“They haven’t done their time in the backyard climbing trees or biking around their streets.”

The warnings come as school sports academies become a common feature across the country.

AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield said children were in some cases being taken out of class to do extra training at sports academies.

“The whole secondary school sport thing is a little perverse.”

 – Sunday Star Times

Source: Teens at breaking point

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