Considerations for Year-Round Athletes: Part I

A long and grueling regular high school season is coming to a close.  All of the practices and training have paid off and your team has done well and now the league playoffs are about to begin.  Two games a week and practice in between.  Winning is a must so the team can qualify for sectionals which is another two weeks of the same schedule, a tiring month of training and playing after a few month of regular season but the experience was truly memorable; now it’s time to rest right?  Not so fast.  Your club team is practicing on Thursday for their first game on Saturday.

The scenario above is not a nightmare it is becoming more and more of a reality for many of the athletes that I train.  Though this schedule will only work for those who truly enjoy their sport and strive to achieve as much as they can with it, it still comes with a price especially if the student-athlete is not prepared to deal with the different types of stress associated with this scenario.

As a trainer, this year-round same-sport chasm is not seen as ideal for maximal athletic gains and personal well being of the athlete.  However, this trend does not seem to be going anywhere and as trainer to athletes we have to adjust to make sure we are not adding to the stress the athlete is undergoing.

In Part One of this series I will discuss some of the pitfalls student athletes face as well as some considerations for the athletes, their parents and the coaches who train them.

More is Better Right?

This new, growing trend of choosing one sport and playing it year-round may have been taken from the pro athlete handbook.  We see continually longer season for the NHL, MLB and other sports with after season playoff series and tournaments.  Many student athletes have aspirations of playing at the next level and therefore dedicate as much time as possible to training and competition for their sport.  Student athletes may be young and resilient and seem like they can handle these frequent, high-intensity training session and games, however, they face other added stress that professional athletes do not.

Life outside of their sports consist of homework, studying, college applications, standardized entrance exams, jobs, socializing, and the list can go on from there.  The management of all of these priorities is a daunting task and is usually associated with cutting into sleep and recovery time.  With the busy lives student athletes have, it is crucial to focus on a balanced program giving close consideration to appropriate rest so they can continue to perform their tasks to the best of their ability and minimize fatigue of the body and mind.

What Do the Studies Say?

As the trend grows, thankfully the scientific research is growing as well.  Stein et al. outlined several risk factors for young athletes including: “Presence of growth cartilage, existence of muscle imbalance, and pressure to compete despite pain and fatigue.”  They also concluded that that playing sports year-round has been linked to a myriad of increased overuse injuries including: “Patellofemoral pain, Osgood-Schlatter disease, Calcaneal Apophysitis, Little League elbow, Little League shoulder, Spondylolysis, and Osteochondritis Dissecans.”

Along the same lines, Brenner et al. found that the incidence of overuse injuries is increasing with the year-round athlete.  According to their study, “Many children are over-trained which can lead to burnout which may have a detrimental effect on the child participating in sports as a lifelong healthy activity.”

Kenttä  et al. stated, “Heavy training in combination with inadequate recovery actions can result in the over-training/staleness syndrome and burnout.”  They found over-training to be very common among their athletes especially during higher intensity individual sports.  Their results showed: “41% of the athletes lost their motivation for training, which in turn indicates a state of burnout. Further, 35% of the athletes reported low satisfaction with time spent on important relationships, 29% rated the relationship with their coach as ranging from very, very bad to only moderately good.”

In a very recent study Luke et al. found that, “Overuse not fatigue-related injuries were encountered in 44.7% of the subjects. They concluded that, When scheduling youth sporting events a sleep time of ≥ 7 hours should be considered to optimize safety, minimize fatigue and over-training

Where Do We Go From Here?

As indicated from the studies above, over-training is a widespread and potentially problem among young athletes in a variety of sports with the stressors not only coming from the sport itself but also with the other outside influences the athlete is facing.

It is the job of the student athlete, parents and the coaches to recognize the seriousness of the situation and do everything they can to manage stress and fatigue so it does not lead to other potentially devastating consequences.

In the second part of the article I will discuss what we as strength and conditioning coaches can do to help the student athletes without adding to the problem.