Load Recommendations and Specialization for Younger Athletes
A common question we get asked by parents is "How much exercise should my child be doing?" With 1 in 5 children being classified as obese, it is more important than ever for us to ensure our children are getting the recommended daily doses of exercise and physical activity. The current World Health Organization recommendations are for children and adolescents to accumulate a total of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity over the course of a day. This can come in the form of transport, organized sport, free play and physical education.
When considering organized sport it is important for us to remember that the body of a child or adolescent is distinctly different to that of an adult. Subsequently the amount of physical stress their body can handle is also different. Periods of musculoskeletal growth can have a huge impact on the physical size of the body as well as flexibility, strength, nerve sensitivity, proprioception (or body position sense) co-ordination and skill. Not to mention metabolism and sleep!
Following this period of physical change it can take 12 months or more for some athletes to "grow into" their new body and for everything to settle down. Clinically, growth-related issues tend to be greater for athletes who grow particularly fast or who may have been a little borderline in these areas prior to undergoing this growth period.
Given this, high loads of one particular sport and specialization into elite pathways at very young ages is discouraged. There are some official policies in some sports to ensure longevity of athletic participation and assist with injury prevention.
- The NBA has Basketball recommendations regarding load for younger athletes here
- Cricket Australia have bowling restrictions on younger athletes due to the torsional stresses on the spine
- Triathlon Australia has a very strict athlete development pathways for younger athletes with coaching focuses and training recommendations. All Triathlon Australia sanctioned coaches should be aware of these guidelines.
Our recommendations are to encourage a wide variety of sport and activity (think both upper limb and lower limb, contact/weight bearing versus non-weightbearing) both structured and informal activity, to ensure well-rounded physical development particularly for pre-teens. It also should be something they enjoy.
Finally the days of dismissing musculoskeletal pain in children as purely "growing pains" have passed, so please take them to see a Sports Physio if they are having issues. We want to ensure a long and active sporting life for everyone.