One of our readers is concerned that her daughter, who skates four times a week at the rink, and is also on her school’s track-and-field team and soccer team is doing too much. This concern is all too real for parents whose children participate in multiple sporting events. Are we overscheduling our kid’s physical activities?
In most cases, the answer is no. Kids were made to run around and be active. The CDC recommends at least one hour per day of physical activity for children. Some countries recommend up to 3 hours daily! (If you want to look closer into what the CDC recommends for children click HERE.)
Where experts are generally concerned for the potential for injury and overtraining seems to be when youth specialize too quickly and with too much intensity. In other words, variety is not only the spice of life – it’s integral to include in your child’s physical activity. So, to allay our reader’s concern about her daughter’s involvement in figure skating, track and field and soccer – she’s probably doing exactly what she’s supposed to be doing.
Engaging in a single discipline at the athlete level (ie. competitive figure skating) will offer little variety for your body. This means that you will use the same muscles over and over again, making them both stronger and also susceptible to overuse injuries. As overuse injuries are among the most common types of injuries for young athletes, any steps we can take to help prevent or avoid them should be taken. Good news: cross training is an easy way to both help prevent injury AND to help improve performance of the main activity. (If you want to know more about cross training, check out our article HERE.)
I do want to be clear. Children (and, really, everyone alive) needs physical activity to stay healthy. It is true that the more you exercise, the more opportunity you have to be injured statistically speaking. It’s the same logic that says that the more you drive on a weekly basis, the greater your chance of getting into an accident. Does that mean you’re guaranteed to get into an accident? No. Nor does it mean that you’re guaranteed to get injured. What cross training provides is an opportunity to distribute the stress of exercise to several muscles instead of just the ones you use frequently for your main sport. For example, if your child is practicing their Axel and double Salchow then they’re using their quads, glutes, and calf muscles frequently. If that same child also participates in gymnastics, they’re also using their core, upper back muscles and shoulder muscles. Cross training also helps keep you in better shape and – I would argue – keeps you from getting bored of your principal sport.
The caveat to this is listening to your body. If you’re consistently tired, dial back your training. Exercise should make you feel refreshed and pumped for the next adventure. If it starts feeling like a chore or if you’re having trouble sleeping, take it down a notch. Listen to what your body is telling you and you should be fine.
So, when you’re not at the rink, encourage your child to go play soccer or competitive Frisbee, or explore pole vaulting or diving, or try their hand at shot-put or rowing. You’ll be doing them a favor!