COMMENTARY

Advising Parents Who Push Kids Too Hard to Achieve in Sports

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD

Disclosures

April 19, 2016

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I'm Art Caplan, from NYU Langone's Division of Medical Ethics.

I recently read a column by the distinguished sports medicine and orthopedic surgeon Dr James Andrews, who treats many famous athletes.[1] Something he said struck a chord with me about talking to young people and families who have kids involved in sports. He said, "We're overspecializing. We're forcing kids to do too much too soon that is specialized." By this, he means throwing curveballs endlessly before their arm is fully developed and their bones have grown in, as well as getting kids to practice year-round and burning them out. It's not fun for them anymore because they have too much of it after school every day.

Dr Andrews made me think about the importance of discussing this with patients who have young kids. If you're seeing a family and have a chance to talk to the kids, remind them to say something if they feel like they're getting tired of a sport, that they can try something else, or that they may want to request a couple of months off when they're young—say, under 12. Specializing in sports and overuse injuries go hand-in-hand, so we're not doing kids any favors if we wind up giving them various health problems, because overusing joints and unformed bones in kids causes injuries.

Mental burnout is an important consideration when it comes to sports for young kids because, as Dr Andrews pointed out, the problem is usually with the parents. They're pressuring kids by making sure that everything is organized, that they get the best coach or play with the travel team, and the kid doesn't always want to do that.

Kids need some room and distance to keep sports fun. We clearly want to encourage sports and physical activity, but kids don't necessarily have to prepare at age 9 to get a scholarship, and they're not necessarily going to be better at the sport because they practiced it at age 7 every day after school.

I think there's something wise that we ought to take into account here: It's great to be outdoors, great to engage in physical activity, and it's fun to play sports. But encourage parents to mix the sports and not overuse different body parts. You don't want kids getting tennis elbow or wrecking their arms as a pitcher because they tried too many fastballs or curveballs.

Listen to your kids, let them vary their sports, and they'll get there soon enough on the specialization. They don't have to pretend that they're on the road to try to qualify for the Olympic team when they're very young.

You don't want to turn off kids from fun because that turns them off from physical activity, which leads to health problems later. So, prudence and a little bit of balance is the advice that physicians have to give when it comes to athletics.

I'm Art Caplan, at the NYU Division of Medical Ethics. Thanks for watching.

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