With school back in session, young athletes may find themselves trying to balance the demands of their sport with their academics. The challenge is – how to prioritize the two and what to do when things feel out of balance?
“School always comes first,” says Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, sport psychologist with the UW Health Sports Medicine program.
Dr. Mirgain points out that participating in sports provides tremendous benefits for kids. Research shows that young athletes tend to have better grades, go on to college, are less likely to drink or do drugs, just to name a few. But it’s important to keep perspective as well.
Roughly three out of four families in the U.S. have at least one child who plays an organized sport, which is around 45 million kids. Yet, nearly 80 percent of those kids have stopped playing organized sports by the time they’re 15. Youth sports is a multi-billion-dollar industry these days, but participation in sports seems to be declining – by as much as 20 percent in some sports. While there is a lot of debate as to why any parent who has kids who participate probably has a few opinions of their own.
Many high school athletes have already returned to sports camps in preparation for the fall season. The challenge is that during July, August and even September, we can experience some of the hottest days of the year. With the high temps, athletes need to be aware of how environmental factors like heat and humidity can affect their health and athletic performance.
How Heat Affects the Body
As heat and humidity rise our body has to work harder to cool off. Our bodies cool primarily through the evaporation of sweat. When temperatures rise, we produce more sweat to cool the body. As the humidity rises, it becomes more difficult for the sweat to evaporate hampering the ability of the body to cool off. It is one reason why it is important for athletes to drink fluids during the day and at practice to stay adequately hydrated, and to modify practice routines based on weather conditions.
In gymnastics, the demand for strength, flexibility and
aesthetics – or form and appearance – combined with repetitive impact can be
taxing on young bodies and put them at greater risk for injuries and strains.
“The most common location of injury for female gymnasts is the lower extremity – ankle sprains and knee overuse injuries. Traumatic knee injuries include a cruciate rupture or meniscus tear” explains Jan Mussallem, UW Health physical therapist. “Male gymnasts tend to experience upper extremity injuries in the shoulder and wrist.”
Off-season training isn’t just for athletes with hopes of one day playing on college teams, or those competing at a high level. UW Health Sports Performance coach Alison Regal explains that most youth athletes can benefit – although how they approach it and the benefits they gain will be different depending on their age.
To figure out what’s best, it is helpful to understand the
different developmental stages.