As April is National Youth Sport Safety Month, it is important to evaluate the quality and quantity of training and competition that your young athletes are exposed to. Tennis is a sport that typically has a very high volume at a young age, and although tennis is an early initiation sport, it should be a late specialization sport. This means that to be highly successful (i.e. earning a college scholarship or dreams of playing professionally) in the sport an individual needs to be exposed to the sport at a young age – typically before 10 years of age. However, it is a late specialization sport. This means that it is important to learn the sport at a young age, but also participate in multiple sports to at least till 12-14 years of age. Over the past decade a number of studies in different sports have consistently shown that athletes that specialize in one sport from a very young age have a greater number of injuries. Some of the most recent research was presented at the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) meeting in San Diego in April. The study is titled “Risks of Specialized Training and Growth in Young Athletes: A Prospective Clinical Cohort Study” and was led by Dr. Neeru Jayanthi (iTPA Certification Commission member) http://www.itpa-tennis.org/certification-commission.html.
Below are some of the most relevant notes from the study :
- Between 2010 and 20103, Neeru Jayanthi (iTPA Certification Commission member) and colleagues at Loyola and Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago enrolled 1,206 athletes ages 8 to 18 between who had come in for sports physicals or treatment for injuries.
- There were 859 total injuries, including 564 overuse injuries, in cases in which the clinical diagnosis was recorded. The overuse injuries included 139 serious injuries such as stress fractures in the back or limbs, elbow ligament injuries and osteochondral injuries (injuries to cartilage and underlying bone). Such serious injuries can force young athletes to the sidelines for one to six months or longer.
- Young athletes who spent more hours per week than their age playing one sport – such as a 12-year-old who plays tennis 13 or more hours a week – were 70 percent more likely to experience serious overuse injuries than other injuries.
- The study confirmed preliminary findings - that specializing in a single sport increases the risk of overall injury, even when controlling for an athlete’s age and hours per week of sports activity.
- Young athletes were more likely to be injured if they spent more than twice as much time playing organized sports as they spent in unorganized free play — for example, playing 11 hours of organized soccer each week, and only 5 hours of free play such as pick-up games.
- Athletes who suffered serious injuries spent an average of 21 hours per week in total physical activity (organized sports, gym and unorganized free play), including 13 hours in organized sports. By comparison, athletes who were not injured, participated in less activity – 17.6 hours per week in total physical activity, including only 9.4 hours in organized sports.
- Injured athletes scored 3.3 on researchers’ six-point sports-specialization scale. Uninjured athletes scored 2.7 on the specialization scale. (On the sports specialization scale, an athlete is given one point for each of the following:
- Trains more than 75 percent of the time in one sport;
- Trains to improve skill or misses time with friends;
- Has quit other sports to focus on one sport;
- Considers one sport more important than other sports;
- Regularly travels out of state;
- Trains more than eight months a year or competes more than six months per year.
Dr. Jayanthi offers the following tips to reduce the risk of injuries in young adults:
- Do not spend more than twice as much time playing organized sports as you spend in gym and unorganized play.
- Do not specialize in one sport before late adolescence.
- Do not play sports competitively year round. Take a break from competition for one-to-three months each year (not necessarily consecutively).
- Take at least one day off per week from training in sports
The iTPA Parent’s Guide To Basic Injury Prevention
The iTPA has created a Parent’s Guide To Basic Injury Prevention Course which is specifically designed to help the tennis parent to appropriately work with their junior players to help reduce the chance of injury through appropriate prevention exercises. The course comes with over one hour of practical video instruction showing detailed injury prevention exercises and tutorials, in addition to an 85-page color Workbook. Please see the webpage for a detailed description and sample videos of the course http://www.itpa-tennis.org/parentcourse.html