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Players Growth
Other Sports
Other Programs


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.

But is it a good idea?

Both empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests the answer is no.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children avoid early sports specialization, citing a number of potentially damaging physical, emotional and psychological consequences.

Although further studies must be done, the organization's Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness has concluded from existing research that the costs just may far outweigh any potential gain.

In stark contrast, the American Academy of Pediatrics says in its policy on Intensive Training and Sports Specialization in Young Athletes: "Those who participate in a variety of sports and specialize only after reaching the age of puberty tend to be more consistent performers, have fewer injuries, and adhere to sports play longer than those who specialize early."

Not convinced? Let's begin by exploring what happens to the body when a child sticks to just one sport.

When broken down, every sport consists of a series of repetitive movements, whether it be swinging a racket, throwing a pitch, running laps, landing dismounts off of a balance beam and so on.

Over time, the constant wear and tear caused by those repeated motions placing stresses on the same areas of the body, often coupled with a lack of proper recovery time, results in what are known as overuse injuries.

With the increase in specialization, children are increasingly being treated for such conditions as swimmer's shoulder, Little League elbow, runner's knee, jumper's knee, tennis elbow, Achilles tendinitis and shin splints.

"I can definitely say in the last 10 or 12 years, there's been more and more and more injuries," said Dr. Marta Sowa, a Lincoln pediatrician who has been in practice for two decades. When a young athlete specializes in one sport, "the same particular areas are vulnerable. The tendons, the ligaments that are the rubber bands that hold those bones together to protect the joints and the growth plates get overused and they can get sprained, strained, fatigued and can let go."

The very nature of a child's maturing body makes them more susceptible to injury than adults, Dr. Sowa said.

While they are developing, kids have open growth plates - the area of growing tissue near the end of the long bones that eventually closes when growth is complete, sometime during adolescence, and is replaced by solid bone.

Before that happens, however, those areas serve as weak spots -- in fact, the weakest of the growing skeleton -- and are more prone to injuries, known as fractures.

Depending upon the severity, bone fractures, which can be caused either by a blow to the area or from overuse, can either heal normally with the help of a cast to hold it in place or at the other extreme can result in deformity or the premature stunting of growth, possibly requiring surgery.

Rick Meana, the Director of Coaching for the New Jersey Soccer Association in an article entitled, Youth Soccer's Dilemma: Is more actually better? echoed this same warning:

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!

Overuse injuries develop when tissue is injured due to repetitive loading of a muscle, bone, tendon, ligament, that is too much physical activity and too little rest and recovery. It is also defined as the cumulative effect of many tiny injuries that cause pain and loss of function. Close to half of the injuries reported regarding youth soccer are overuse injuries!

Signs of Overuse: Weakness, Loss of Flexibility, Chronic Pain, Inflammation, Swelling. The inflammation is actually a degeneration of tissue caused by the micro trauma Some others: Loss of Performance, (Hard to differentiate between a 'bad day' and overuse injury). "I don't know, its just a little sore", "I don't remember getting hurt"

Soreness after workout is normal but it should dissipate after a day or 2 and soreness, aching and limping lasting 3 days or more may indicate overuse. The overuse injury is a process, and will take time to develop, starting 3 or 4 weeks into a season. Muscles affected by overuse injury tend to be tighter, more irritable and will become prone to an acute injury.

Playing other sports rests and equally importantly balances muscle development. Throughout an athlete's body, the muscles work in tension with each other; the quads balance the hamstrings. If one gets too strong, it can damage the other. Too strong a hamstring and the MCL is at risk. If the quads are too strong they can cause the hamstring to tear.

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.

As a Club, our Directors study to stay abreast of the literature and have developed our training program accordingly. We are lucky to have Emilio John as a Director given his background not only in the sport, but also in sports medicine. For children that are prepubescent, i.e., younger than 12, we arrange for three practices a week. At younger ages one of these practices is optional so that children can adjust their schedules so they can do other activities and still get the training they need. We will also adjust our training so that players who miss practices with their team may attend practices with another team. Our coaches will stay after practices to offer additional, more individualized training and we offer "skills" training practices every week separate from the team practices.

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.