West Valley Medical Center - September 26, 2017

Sports are supposed to push you. Physically and mentally, competition challenges players to run faster, hit harder, and aim higher. This constant upping of the ante is one of the best things about sports. But taken too far, it can also be one of the worst.

Kids are especially vulnerable. With many kids on school teams, playing in summer camps, and enrolled in leagues, many American children are active, competing athletes.

It's important to remember that student athletes may be superstars on the field, but off it, they're human like everyone else. The pressure to perform can be immense and harmful.

Here are 4 warning signs you're pushing your student athletes too far. If they sound familiar, you might have moved from pushing your child to their potential to pushing them over the edge.

1. It's All About Winning

In a hyper-competitive society, we forget that games are supposed to be just that: games.

There's a disconnect between why we want our kids to play sports and why our kids want to play sports.

While children largely want to play sports to have fun, parents assume the reason their kids like sports is because they want to win, according to a May 2013 report in the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine.

Wrong. Winning is fun, but not when it's the only option.

You want your kids to go out for a sport and enjoy themselves. You don't want them to feel stressed and pressured to win because you have that expectation.

2. Safety Comes Second

There's some truth to the saying no pain, no gain. But that pain shouldn't come from a pulled muscle, fracture, or concussion.

Risky business: 54% - athletes playing while injured; 42% - athletes hiding an injury to avoid being pulled from a game. Source: Safe Kids Worldwide

Don't push your kids to play while they're injured, and teach them to recognize signs of injury and report them. Better to lose a game than lose your mobility.

3. There's No Rest For The Weary

Less is sometimes more. Though you may think that the more often your kid is training and practicing, the better he'll be at a sport, that can backfire.

Even without an acute injury, overuse injuries are common. The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine recommends certain limitations to prevent overuse injuries, including:

  • Limiting sports activity, both weekly and yearly
  • Customizing training times to an individual athlete's needs
  • Monitoring athletes' performance and health
  • Sizing equipment properly
  • Pre-season conditioning programs

4. You Ignore Red Flags

Don't ignore signs of trouble. When your athlete seems like she might not be up to the game, don't force her in.

Under pressure: 54% of coaches said they felt pressured to put an injured player back into the game. Source: Safe Kids Worldwide

An overexerted young athlete will show multiple signs of overtraining. These can be psychological, physical, or even hormonal.

Signs of overtraining syndrome, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, include:

  • Mental changes, such as to personality or mood
  • Physical changes, such as chronic pain or fatigue
  • Lack of enthusiasm about the sport

It's a hard balance to strike. You want to encourage your kids to get in the spirit of the game and push their limits, but it's just as important to recognize those limits and not go too far beyond them.

If your student athlete has been injured, schedule an appointment with a West Valley Medical Center physician to discuss how to get your sports star back in the game.