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Atomic City Update: Year-round sports participation could lead to trouble in the future

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By Phil Scherer

As exciting as every new baseball season is, it seems like at the end of the first weekend, several star players are hurt and out for the season, putting a damper on what should be a moment to celebrate.

The biggest examples this year are Milwaukee Brewers closer Cory Knebel, who is out with an elbow injury, and New York Yankees third baseman Miguel Andujar, who may require season-ending shoulder surgery.

Examples like this pop up every season, and sends teams into immediate scramble mode. Some of these injuries are unpredictable and unexplainable. But others can be prevented, and often result from an athlete pushing their body too hard too fast.  

It makes me worry about the high school athletes I watch every day. Many of them compete in sports the entire year, whether they play on club teams for their primary sport or compete in several different sports at the high school.

I worry about overuse at such a young age. No other level of athletics encourages people to compete year-round. There is a level of recovery needed at the end of a season, and many athletes don’t take the time to do that. Once one season ends, it’s right into the next one.

Basketball players at LAHS lost at the state basketball tournament, then some of them competed the next day in a track meet. I understand having a competitive drive and a desire to compete, but at a certain point the injury risk really increases.

Some athletes participate in three sports at the high school, then spend the entire summer alternating between training for those three sports. I just wonder if every one of those athletes takes all the necessary steps to remain healthy. Our bodies are not meant to be pushed to the limit 12 months a year, and doing so can have serious ramifications down the road.

Professional athletes have six months between seasons, do conditioning gradually through the offseason, spend more than a month building back to full speed, and still break down three days into the regular season.

You often hear about the negative effects of specializing in one sport, like a baseball player who does nothing but pitch from the time they are 12 years old, but not enough is made out of the value of rest and recovery.

I know how tempting it is to always have the best athletes on the field, but at what point does the scale tip in terms of the athlete’s long-term health? We shouldn’t expect that kids that are 16 or 17 years old always know what is in their own best interest. Coaches play a big role in keeping everyone in the best shape possible.

So I would urge coaches, especially at the high school level, to give their multi-sport athletes more of a chance to recover. If they are a pitcher, skip their turn in the rotation a couple times. If they are a football player, have them stay on the sidelines for a few extra series’. If they play hockey, give them a few shifts off. If they wrestle, hold them out of a couple meets, especially early in the season.

This is about more than just a state championship or high school glory. We are talking about kids’ long-term health and durability here. This is a big issue, and it really can’t be ignored.