PLAYING OTHER SPORTS, DOING OTHER ACTIVITIES AND OVERUSE INJURIES
For younger aged players we encourage participation in other sports and activities. Playing multiple sports through age 12 to 13 aids in the development of core strength and fitness. It is also reduces the likelihood of over use injuries.
Consider this summary of the evidence to date that appeared in the Providence Journal, June 20, 2006:
It's become a growing trend: Parents who feel their son or daughter is showing promise in a particular sport decide that they need to concentrate exclusively on that discipline, even as young as 9 or 10, often playing it year-round because they feel it will give them an advantage.
According to most of the Sports Medicine Professionals I have spoken to recently report that just 15 years ago, overuse injuries accounted for 20% of patients visiting their clinics, now it's up to 70% and increasing year after year! What is interesting to note is that over training, early specialization and too little rest and recovery all contribute to overuse injuries. What is even more interesting to note (and very troubling) is that they point to the "youth soccer club mentality" for the "epidemic" that is affecting all youth sports across the board!
Playing other sports provides balanced training. It allows the athlete to continue to maintain their cardio vascular levels without undue damage from over use of the muscles, ligaments and tendons primarily associated with one sport.
Soccer, as we noted in the first Chapter, is a unique sport. The technical movements and tissue development have much in common with other technical sports such as gymnastics and figure skating. In each, balance is essential - every critical skill done in soccer is done while standing on one foot. This means that extended times off from technical soccer training can be detrimental to the player's development.
The development of this technical skill requires constant practice, but the practice needs to be at a level that does not over tax young bodies. An article in the Journal of Sports Sciences in September 2000, The roles of talent, physical precocity and practice in the development of soccer expertise, reviewed the published literature and concluded that prepubescent players needed between 10 and 12 hours a week to develop properly.
To put this in perspective children in government sponsored sports academies in France, run by the professional French soccer clubs train four hours per day, five days a week, with half of the training soccer specific. This is the level of training our children compete against when they play at the highest levels.
Given these concerns is this too much? No, actually this is just about right. Consider the following extract from an article by Dr. Lyle Michelli, M.D,. that appeared on the Massachusetts Soccer web site, entitled, Sports Training - How Much is Too Much:
As a general rule, children shouldn't train for more than 18-20 hours a week. If a child is engaged in elite competition there may be pressures to train for longer - especially in the lead-up to a major event. Anytime a child trains for longer than this recommended length of time she must be monitored by a qualified sports doctor with expertise in young athletes. This is to make sure abnormalities in growth or maturation do not occur. Any joint pain lasting more than two weeks is justification for a visit to the sports doctor.
The formal training we offer at the younger ages usually runs about three to four hours per week. This means a player needs to be practicing soccer at home for another six or so hours each week.
During these young ages our training is primarily technical; it is focused on the player and the ball. While players need to be challenged by other players to learn to perform skills at speed, they can readily hone these technical skills largely on their own.
About the time players reach puberty training changes. At this stage more and more time needs to spent on learning the game and this learning has to be with the team. We begin teaching tactical play around age 13. If a player is not at practice, they will not learn what the rest of the team is learning and will have difficulty performing on the field.
Not all athletes are the same. Some can effectively perform at very high levels in multiple sports and keep their grades at the highest levels. Others are very taxed doing just one sport.
We will, even at older ages, work around conflicts where possible for players and we will not tell a player they are prohibited from playing a varsity sport in high school other than soccer, but we will cut the playing time of players who cannot perform on the field. It is not fair to the remainder of the team to grant a player a pass, who is not performing, because they miss practice for another activity.
At all ages we expect players to make our games their main activity. We are committed to our players' development; but, that commitment is a two way street. We need all of our players at games and tournaments in order for each player to grow and develop.
Even with our research and efforts at scheduling we need your help as parents to do this job right. We and your child need you to bring your child to practice. We also need you to keep us informed of your child's other activities and any injuries they may have suffered. Together we can work to help your child reach their potential.