Too much, too soon, too many surgeries for young people

Author: Matthew Rush  • 

In the coming days and weeks, there will be football playoffs, basketball practice, and a winter pitching clinic – and that’s all for one high school athlete.

On one hand, this is great for this young man – he’s helping his school and following his passions.  On the other, what he and his parents might not be considering is the increased incidence of major surgeries for middle and high school athletes.

Let’s be clear – playing multiple different sports is one thing… but the rate at which student athletes are being forced to specialize earlier and with higher frequency is not only scary, its expensive and dangerous.

According to  expert Dr. James Andrews, the rate of injury has increased seven-fold in young athletes over the last decade (http://www.cleveland.com/dman/index.ssf/2013/02/noted_surgeon_dr_james_andrews.html)

For those who don’t follow sports, Dr. Andrews is the guru of fixing high-profiled athletes and getting them back on track to continue their lucrative careers.  His patients include players like Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson, Roger Clemens, Albert Pujols, Jack Nicklaus, and Brett Favre – among hundreds of others.  While Dr. Andrews has performed thousands of successful surgeries (particularly for overhead sport athletes), he is on a different mission.

“I hate to see the kids that we used to not see get hurt. … Now they’re coming in with adult, mature-type sports injuries. It’s a real mess,” Andrews says in the article.

Now he’s on a mission to educate parents and coaches about the dangers of year-round, singularly-focused sports and the travel team business that is both expensive and dangerous.

As a long time coach myself, I have always believed that diversifying the athletic event from season to season is a good thing.  It helps one use different muscle groups, and you can learn a lot from being on other teams where you aren’t the star or the main cog, you are simply adding your talents to a school team.  In other words, “being true to your school”, as the old song goes.

Soccer, basketball, and baseball tend to be the biggest offenders of the year-round/ travel team issue, but they are not alone.  And from an athlete’s perspective, the promise of college scholarship, potential professional contract, and fame – it’s easy to see why families go “all in.”  Still, the question is seldom asked, at what cost?

Independent schools like Allen Academy are great to help mitigate some of the pressure to specialize, but are also not immune.  In the last six months at Allen, I have seen baseball players help the track team, football players help the cross-country team, and basketball players offer their athleticism to allow us to bring back soccer this winter.  While we must be careful to not overtax our student athletes, it’s encouraging to see our Rams being true to their school.

My best, Matt

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