Children are starting sports earlier than ever before, and some even begin playing competitively by age three or four. Children ages five and six are playing in “elite level talent development models,” according to Daniel Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports.
Many children play on high-intensity travel teams year round, sought out by scouts looking to groom talent. Specialized coaches train children on skills like endurance, kicking and pitching.
Gould told Yahoo! Health that “the problem is that kids are not miniature adults, and it can be physiologically and psychologically detrimental for them in the long term.”
Experts like Gould have been warning against the formation of a children’s high-intensity sports culture for years because of the high likelihood of injury as well as of psychological effects, and new research is only strengthening their argument.
A new study published in the journal Radiology showed that younger baseball pitchers are at risk for a new overuse injury called acromial apophysiolysis if they throw over 100 pitches per week. This injury can keep the shoulder from developing normally and lead to other problems, like tears in the rotator cuff.
In a press release, radiologist Dr. Johannes B. Roedl stressed the danger of this injury, saying that “this overuse injury can lead to potentially long-term, irreversible consequences, including rotator cuff tears later in life.”
He added that the intensity of pitch training was the main issue. “Pitching places incredible stress on the shoulder. It’s important to keep training in the moderate range and not to overdo it.”
According to experts, the important thing is to resist thinking about kids’ sports as professional sports and allow children to compete at their own pace.
“To realize all the wonderful benefits that youth sports have to offer, it’s important that children are allowed to enjoy the sports they play and do not feel undue pressure from parents and external sources,” says Ryan Lynn, Director of Marketing at ChalkTalkSports.com. “We as parents should not lose sight of the benefits that youth sports offer when structured appropriately.”