Pediatricians can help families navigate healthy sports practices and encourage ways to keep participation fun
Children and teens reap many physical and mental health benefits from participating in sports, but research shows about 70 % of them drop out of these organized activities by age 13.
The American Academy of Pediatrics calls attention to the potential underlying causes behind sport drop-out rates and describes how pediatricians can encourage healthy athletic participation within a clinical report, “Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Young Athletes.”
The report, published in the February 2024 Pediatrics. (published online Jan. 22), updates a prior report from 2007 with the latest evidence on how excessive training can lead to overuse injury, overtraining, impaired well-being and decreased quality of life.
Clinical reports created by AAP are written by medical experts, reflect the latest evidence in the field, and go through several rounds of peer review before being approved by the AAP Board of Directors and published in Pediatrics.
“Sports are such a powerful and fun motivator to keep youth physically and mentally active, but some youth may feel pressure from parents, coaches and others to measure success only by performance,” said Joel S. Brenner, MD, MPH, FAAP, an author of the report, co-authored by the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.
“Pediatricians can help families determine what sport participation practices will benefit children most and help encourage physical activity as a lifelong pursuit.”
The report outlines common sports-related injuries, such as those caused by repetitive stress, and states that children and adolescents may be at an increased risk for overuse injuries compared with adults. Growing bones in children are less tolerant of stress than those of adults and may be more susceptible to the development of stress injuries.
The AAP defines overtraining as a decrease in performance due to an imbalance of training and recovery that is often accompanied by persistent fatigue, impaired sleep and alterations in mood. Excessive training volume and overscheduling are also suggested as two potential risk factors for burnout. Research finds that it is more common to see young athletes participate on multiple teams at the same time and training year-round.
“Whether training is specialized or multisport, it becomes a problem when an athlete no longer has any free play time or opportunity to engage in other non-sport-related activities,” said Andrew Watson, MD, MS, FAAP, co-author of the report. “Athletic competition and training will always prompt some stress that, when delivered in an appropriate way, leads to adaptation, success and enjoyment. When that stress becomes excessive, it can lead to burnout.”
The AAP recommends:
The report also includes specific recommendations for clinicians working with families.
“It’s important to teach our athletes to focus on wellness and to listen to their bodies,” Dr. Brenner said. “We can encourage mindfulness, time away from sports and other ways to prevent injury or burnout. If you have questions, always talk with your pediatrician.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.