As parents, we strive to ensure our athletes always put in their best effort; to lay it all on the line and to never quit. Parents are willing to do almost anything to turn their kids into future stars. Practices are now longer, more intense, and more frequent. But these changes constitute a double-edged sword. While practice and repetition may inch the athlete closer to perfection, athletes also run the risk of overtraining and injuring themselves.
These injuries can rob players of valuable training and competition time, as well as impair their ability to achieve long term goals. So how do we know when an athlete is overtraining?
In addition to deteriorating physical condition, symptoms of overtraining include “depression, loss of motivation, appetite, and weight, coupled with an increase in resting heart rate, minor injuries, and upper respiratory infections,” according to strength and conditioning specialist David Frankovic of BodyBuilding.com. Quickly spotting and diagnosing these problems are instrumental in keeping players off the dreaded injured list.
7 Best Ways to Prevent Overtraining
1. Pay attention to Time guidelines relevant to the activity your child is participating in. A general rule of thumb according to SportsSafety.org is no more than 18-20 hours of training per week; but this varies with each person’s fitness, age and sport. For example in most youth baseball leagues, pitchers are not allowed to pitch more than seven innings per week and nomore than 300 “skilled throws,” including ones in practices. Remember though, these are the maximums; this does not mean you should automatically try to have your child reach these numbers regardless of whether he/she is already burning out.
2. Don’t do too much too quickly. Follow the 10% rule. This refers to the amount of weekly training time, repetitions, or total distance athletes can add each week without risking injury from overtraining. So if your child is running about 20 miles a week, you can safely have them increase mileage to 22 miles per week. Though the percentage may be taken as a ballpark measurement, many injuries result from a direct violation of this rule. A classic case is not exercising much during the summer and then immediately jumping into preseason training in the fall.
3. One team at a time. This may prove near impossible if your child loves playing multiple sports or if scheduling conflicts occur. If the athlete is on multiple teams, keep an eye on him/her more closely for signs of burnout or joint pains lasting longer than two weeks. Even grades in school can be an important indicator; an uncharacteristic dip in grades may signal that stress from sports is becoming too much to bear. Always make sure your child has sufficient rest days (minimum 1-2 per week) and don’t be afraid to discontinue one sports activity if need be.
4. Do your research on the coach. Sometimes the coach can be the root of the problem and it is important you pick the perfect private coach who suits your athlete. Background, experience, and certifications are just the starting point. Check on the coach’s actual training regimen and make sure they have a legitimate plan. Is the coach making the training session hard just for the sake of making it hard, or is there an actual purpose and benefit behind each workout? You want someone who not only maximizes your child’s potential, but also makes the training enjoyable and comfortable every day.
5. Make sure workouts are varied. This applies especially for the older children who engage in supplementary weight training in addition to their primary sport. Avoid working out the same muscle group on consecutive days, even if unintentional. For example, if you focus on your back one day, your biceps may have gotten a workout too. Lifting arms the next day will break down those muscles even more without allowing sufficient time to recover. Furthermore, continuously doing the same exercises builds up muscle memory, and growth will eventually plateau. Vary up your workouts to create muscle confusion and put some thought into scheduling workouts along with rest days.
6. Have your kids stretch beforehand and cool down after. Too many young athletes choose to ignore this as they are too preoccupied with the competition that day. I guarantee your child’s muscles will be thankful for this; not only will they feel looser and less sore, but they will be less prone to nagging injuries like hamstring pulls, calf strains, etc.
7. Feed and hydrate your athletes well! This may sound obvious, but this will go a long way to ensure your athletes are properly energized for their workouts. Overtraining is caused by a multitude of reasons like diet, stress, and insufficient sleep, not just excessive training volume. Remember, growth takes place outside the gym and in in the kitchen!