Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Child atheletes in America - a bit crazy

The New York Times > Sports > Other Sports > Doctors See a Big Rise in Injuries for Young Athletes

High school students apply the technology and methodologies of the 1990 olympics. Grade schoolers are applying the technology and methodologies of the 1970 olympics. The NYT reports on one outcome -- exotic injuries:
A competitive swimmer since she was 7, Alex Glashow of Barrington, R.I., logged 8,000 yards a day in the pool, until her arms ached. She learned to dislocate one shoulder intentionally to ease the pain in the water, but after shoulder surgery and a year of physical therapy, Glashow quit competitive swimming forever when she was 15.

Jeret Adair, a top young pitching prospect from Atlanta who started 64 games in one summer for his traveling baseball team, last year had Tommy John surgery, an elbow reconstruction once reserved for aging major leaguers.

Ana Sani of Scarsdale, N.Y., a 13-year-old budding soccer star, practiced daily until she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee...

...Dr. Lyle Micheli, a pioneer in the field of treating youth sports injuries and director of the sports medicine division of Boston Children's Hospital, said that 25 years ago, only 10 percent of the patients he treated came to him for injuries caused by overuse. Back then, most childhood injuries were fractures and sprains. Dr. Micheli said overuse injuries now represented 70 percent of the cases he sees...

... "It's not enough that they play on a school team, two travel teams and go to four camps for their sport in the summer," said Dr. Eric Small, who has a family sports-medicine practice in Westchester County. "They have private instructors for that one sport that they see twice a week. Then their parents get them out to practice in the backyard at night."

... It is not uncommon for the damage done by an overuse injury to be irrevocable, and the doctor's advice is to quit the sport.

"That's usually not received too well," said Dr. Michael Busch, an Atlanta orthopedic surgeon. "The parents will ask if there isn't some kind of surgery that can be done, so their child can keep doing the things that brought this injury on in the first place...

"To tell you the truth, the kids usually take it better than the parents. Many kids are relieved. They can be kids again."...
This is seriously crazy. Some of those parents seem to qualify as an odd variant of child abuser. The real problem, however, is not misplaced parental pride. It's a society that's become obsessed with excellence. Get over it guys. There's always someone faster, someone smarter, someone better. There are maybe 6 billion people on earth; 6,000 of them are "one in a million".

More importantly, the most significant injury is not to these child atheletes. It's their inactive peers who are really hurt and hurting. If the standard for sports participation is an elite athletic ideal, then 95% of children can't even imagine participating. We aren't going to do anything about obesity if 95% of kids are sidelined from first grade onwards.

Sports is important. For some people it will be the most important thing in their lives. (I make no value judgment, for all I know God is a quarterback. If I'd had the talent to attract girls by athletic display I'd have fully exploited that opportunity!) But like everything else in America, we carry it to absurd extremes.

We need to slow things down, and we need to broaden the experience to include all children -- including the slow and clumsy. Get a grip America!

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