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Hi Coach Steve,
I just read your article “When Should Kids Specialize in Sports? Five Tips to Help You Find the Right Moment” and I found it very interesting; as a student-athlete, it gave me a lot to think about.
My sport, like Ms. Vitas’, is rowing, but the difference is that I’m a freshman in high school. My coach really stresses morning workouts, supplementary workouts, and limited rest time. I’m curious what you think about constant stress on the body and its effects on someone as young as myself?
Ask yourself these four questions, and follow your intuition
Thank you for asking this important question that concerns all athletes, regardless of their sport. To help answer this question, I reached out to Sofia Vitas, a Team USA rower who I mentioned and quoted in my column about the importance of playing multiple sports at younger ages. I also touched base with a pediatrician (Dennis Scott) and primary care sports medicine physician (Gregory Walker).
Drawing on their perspectives, as well as my own and those of other medical experts and athletes I’ve met over the years, here are some questions you can ask yourself to find out if you’re putting too much pressure on yourself:
1. Do you listen to your body?
Let’s get out of two issues:
- First, if you row (or participate in rowing action) more than eight months out of the year, find another sport to practice during the other four months to reduce wear and tear on your rowing muscles. This is a straightforward recommendation for young athletes like you from the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA), and it applies to any sport.
- Secondly, is there any physical harm? I’m talking about a sharp or stabbing pain that doesn’t go away. If so, consult a doctor or orthopedic surgeon (or both) immediately.
Now ask yourself if you feel constantly tired. Exercise should energize and rejuvenate you after rest, not tire you out.
As a general guideline, don’t train more hours per week than your age in years. (That would be 14 for a typical high school student like you.) The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, American Academy of Pediatrics, and NATA also recommend taking two days off from physical activity per week to rest.
Even 14 hours of pure rowing (or performing red moves for any sport) per week can be detrimental to a young athlete, especially if you are in the middle of a growth spurt.
“I had a huge growth spurt (in) 8th/9th grade, so adequate rest was definitely my friend,” Vitas wrote in an email. “Trying to overpower my body when it tells me to rest has never helped me in the long run.”
According to Scott, a pediatrician and pediatric endocrinologist who also answers questions about children’s health issues JustAnswer.comA growth spurt causes the skeleton to grow faster than the body’s supporting structures. During growth spurts, muscles and ligaments become tight and more susceptible to injury, she says.
This tension problem can be exacerbated by injuries associated with the growth plates, which are located at the end of the long bones where growth occurs. Scott says stress from sports during growth spurts and on growth plates can lead to difficulty healing and even potentially uneven limb growth.
“Overuse injuries stem from preventing adequate time between activities for rest and recovery, especially when a person maintains the same movements repeatedly,” Scott says. “I have known several teenagers who had sports injuries that required surgery, ruling them out for an entire season.
“Rest periods are crucial. This is the time when muscles rebuild themselves, and for a teenager experiencing a growth spurt, extra rest is vital.
2. Do you cross-train?
Scott talked with her kids’ trainers about the importance of training to work different muscle groups while allowing others to rest. For example, a cross country team could swim laps one day or ride a bike another day instead of running every time the team practices.
As a former rower, I know that this sport involves a lot of training outside of the water, such as lifting weights, jogging and running stairs to increase your strength and endurance. These cross-training activities should be factored into your maximum activity limit of 14 hours per week.
However, although movement variety is important in training, you must take into consideration the level at which you are training. If all your training is at a high level of intensity, you risk physical and mental exhaustion.
Low-intensity exercise may benefit your aerobic and musculoskeletal health, suggests Walker, a primary care sports medicine physician at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Walker cites Matt Fitzgerald’s book “80/20 Running,” which talks about how elite runners spend only 20% of their time training at peak levels of intensity. Other times, they train at a more sustained level (i.e. running slowly enough to have a conversation with your teammates while you do it). In terms of rowing, easily think of static rows on the water versus 2,000-meter sprints in races or ergometer (rowing machine).
Called Zone 2, these workouts prepare our bodies for high-intensity exercise without putting too much of a burden on the body to recover. You can think of the 80/20 concept, Walker says, in terms of a five-day week, where you take Wednesday and Sunday off.
“Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays will be easy days as the focus is on more aerobic exercise,” he says. “Tuesday could be a threshold day, and Saturday will be a longer workout day with most of the time spent in Zone 2.”
3. What is your goal?
Let’s go back for a moment. Maybe you don’t want to become an elite endurance athlete just yet. (You’re 14, and that’s totally normal.) Maybe you just want to compete against other kids alongside your friends as part of your overall high school experience.
“When I was her age, I didn’t take sports seriously,” Vitas told me.
You know the story of Vitas from my column on sports specialization. She played a variety of sports in high school but never developed a true passion or strength for one until she started rowing at the University of Wisconsin. She is now 30 years old and has reached the Olympic level in the sport. “I know rowing is a good way to get a college scholarship,” Vitas said in October. “But from my experience at the University of Wisconsin, I saw a lot of certain athletes who started rowing in middle school, in high school they didn’t have a very successful collegiate career, whereas walk-ons — there are six or seven Badgers right now in the national team rotation who They were untrained – so I think that kind of talks about starting young versus starting later.
If you are tired from rowing, you can participate in other sports, even recreationally, and return to rowing later. It may not hurt your progress at all.
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We know from research that Only about 7% of high school athletes play a varsity sport in college. However, rowing is unique in that you can join college crews, even with no experience. (The experience you already have will only help you.)
I joined my college staff with no prior experience as a freshman in college, when my post-pubescent body was ready to endure physical and mental hardship.
4. Have you talked to your coach?
When I was a college rower in the mid-1990s, we didn’t question the training demands of our coaches. We simply met them. We don’t live in this oppressive world anymore. We know more about the physical damage (not to mention the mental impact) that excessive exercise can have on young bodies, which are still developing emotionally and physically.
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Your teammates are likely feeling the same stress as you. Tell them how you feel, then communicate with your coaches as a group. Share your concerns about wear and tear. If your coaches are looking out for you, they will listen to you and even adapt to you.
Rowing, as you know, is about the positive feelings you get from putting in your effort. Victories come with effort and teamwork.
However, as you know, rowing has always been more of a ‘feel’ sport than a sport about winning. Think of those good rows where everyone has control and rhythm and the eight-person boat seems to be gliding through the water. Once you achieve this feeling, it almost doesn’t matter if you win or lose the race.
All sports can work the same way. You’re best at achieving your best, working as a team, when everyone is pulling in the same direction, including your coaches.
Steve Borelli, also known as Coach Steve, has been an editor and writer for USA TODAY since 1999. He spent 10 years coaching his two sons’ baseball and basketball teams. He and his wife, Colleen, are now athlete parents to a high school and middle school student. His column is published weekly. To view his previous columns, click here.
Do you have a question for Coach Steve that you’d like answered in a column? Send him an email at [email protected]
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