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Local Pediatrician Shares Tips For Parents Of Young Athletes

Audio

Aired 12/22/10

What should parents take into consideration before signing their kid up for Little League, or another youth sport? A local pediatrician specializing in sports medicine shares tips for parents and coaches who want to keep their children healthy, happy and fit. What kind of problems can be created by putting too much pressure on a kid to succeed at a sport? And, how do you know when your kid is working too hard at an athletic activity?

What should parents take into consideration before signing their kid up for Little League, or another youth sport? A local pediatrician specializing in sports medicine shares tips for parents and coaches who want to keep their children healthy, happy and fit. What kind of problems can be created by putting too much pressure on a kid to succeed at a sport? And, how do you know when your kid is working too hard at an athletic activity?

Guest

Dr. Paul Stricker, a pediatrician specializing in sports medicine for Scripps Health, and author of the book "Sports Success Rx."

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. It's little league sign up time around town of that's not only a sign that spring will eventually come again, but it's also a good time for parents and kids to have a conversation about sports. Baseball and other organized sports can teach all sorts of good, physical and emotional lessons for kids. That can also get out of hand. Kids can take them too seriously, and parents can too. Joining me for a conversation about the benefits and the risks of school sport system my guest, doctor Paul Stricker. A pediatrician specializing in sports medicine for Scripps health, and author of the book, sports success RX. Doctor Stricker, welcome to These Days.

STRICKER: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now we invite our listeners to join the conversation. Are you eager to sign your children up for sports in accident year, or do you have any concerns about the way the programs are conducted or about potential injuries? Give us a call with your questions and comments of the number is 1-888-895-5727. So I think we should start out with talking about some of the physical and mental benefits of kids getting into youth sports. What can a child gain from that experience?

STRICKER: I think there's a long list, thank goodness of it's wonderful that children can have the ability to express their bodies and to exercise and to explore. And most young children learn about life in general by kind of an action reaction scenario. And they do the same thing with sports. They know that if they kick the ball, it moves, and then know they learn over time how to direct that. And it's a fascinating thing to watch that happen so naturally. It doesn't always have to be guided or pressured along the way. They gain, of course, physical fitness and they gain discipline and team work. And they understand what it means to achieve from their own efforts. And I think that is an important thing that applies as they go on to life later on with their families and their jobs. They also learn that there's ways to feel person accomplishments and personal success after what they have done if they compare to themselves rather than to other kids. So there's a lot of physical, there's a lot of emotional benefit. And I think it's something this hopefully will lead to lifelong approach to exercise, so they can stay healthy as long as possible.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is there something special that kids get out of team sports as opposed to individual efforts in various, you know, throwing balls around or tennis or something like that?

STRICKER: Yeah, we like to think that both types of sports, individual sports and team sports, are beneficial for different reasons. And team sports, camaraderie, and people feel like they're a part of something positive, they feel like they're contributing and there's a lot more kind of self gratification if they do the winning play and the whole team supports them. At the same time, some kids don't get to play very much on a team, so it becomes more of a negative situation. And those children may do better in an individual sport where they get to did their own thing that they're good at.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay, so now we've laid the ground work of why it's a good idea to get involved in sports. What are are some of the things that perhaps parents should watch out for? What are some of the physical problems that can occur if a child starts to work too hard at sports?

STRICKER: Physical injury from over use is the thing that unfortunately keeps me in business at Scripps clinic. Children of to be active, and they'll go out and play with their friends, but if it's too structured or at the young ages or there's too much intensity, their young growing bodies just aren't necessarily capable to sustain some of these intensities. And so what happens is their young bodies break do you happen, and they get injured or sick, and some kids don't respond to that very well. They have don't know what to say or do. And so they -- it often can lead to an unhealthy approach where they can start to use injury as a way out or they'll start to avoid going to activities because they can't figure out a way to say hey, I don't want to do this or I'm hurt. Nowadays there's so much pressure that kids feel if they're hurt they'll lose their position or they'll lose their potential scholarship. [CHECK] and they just go ahead and play injured, and then they're damaged goods later on.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're gonna break down in just a minute or so, you have a list of things to watch out for at various ages as a child progresses in the sports world. So we'll be talking about that. But in a general sense, when can a parent recognize when a child is working too hard at a sport?

STRICKER: Well, if they'll watching them and they physically see that their technique has changed or [CHECK] they may see something before they'll actually hear the child verbalize it. At home though they may start to notice too that the child is not excited to go back to practice, finds excuses not to did, seems a lot bit more uncomfortable about the situation. So I think there are some red flags that would show up along the way.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with doctor Paul Stricker, he is a pediatrician specializing in sports medicine for Scripps health. He's the author of the book, sports success RX. We are taking your calls as well, 1-888-895-5727. So we've been talking about the physical, but there is a mental side to this too. Of we've all seen parents who kind of push their kids a little hard. We've actually seen coaches who push the kids pretty hard in little league and other organized sports. What are some of the mental problems that can result from a child being given too much pressure, pushed too hard, at a particular sport?

STRICKER: Yeah, it starts at a young age too. Kids start to form their self esteem and their ability to compare around age five or so. They see the reaction of their parents or other people. And they start to form those identities early on. So if they start to associate themselves with their sport, and that is their identity, then as time goes on with more pressure, if they don't live up to the expectations from the adults, then they end up kind of becoming a generation of dysfunction adults that over achieve to make up for what they didn't achieve as a youngster. [CHECK] when you have over 40 million kids in organized sports from age 6 to 18, clearly there's not gonna be 40 million winners. And we have to learn how to help kids define success as their own personal achievement compared to themselves, rather than to others. And I just think if a lot of adults would do that, that would help very much along the way to help have many or children people like they are winners in that sense of.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have heard of dopes, pressure being put on coaches who want to play everybody, as opposed to playing the best players so that the team can do better, and those players can shine. What kind of pressure actually is put on the people who organize these team sports to have a winning team? How does that play out?

STRICKER: That's a great question. I fortunately had a wonderful coach growing up in swimming. But I've seen coaches in that predicament. [CHECK] pressuring them to really focus on 1 or 2 children, where from the sports psychology world, it's clearly not healthy for them to do that. Ful we want them to play as many kids as possible. And some of the kid said who are good at those ages, we have to remember, if they go through puberty early, if other kids are delayed, when they catch up issue these other kids may fall behind and maybe not be so much of a start anymore. [CHECK].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: My guest is doctor Paul Stricker, we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Ian is on the lane.

Q. Solana Beach. Good morning, ian.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. I just wanted to make one comment. And that is if the United States in general put as much effort into science clubs, mathematics clubs, science Olympiad and other type of activities, I think that they would serve the youth a lot better and increase the competitiveness of the United States against countries in Asia which are starting to exceed it. And I would want to hear what your guest has to say since he has attended college himself.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay, Ian, thank you for that question. And let me have you take that, doctor Stricker.

STRICKER: Yeah, the -- it's interesting that so many parents that I've come across sometimes will sacrifice potential future career choices, scholastic benefit for their children all for the sake of the hope of that one child getting into their sport and being successful. And truly when you look at those statistics, it's about less than 1 tenth of one percent of children that will make it to the pros. So I think that they are doing a disservice in that sense to not have their children be prepared if they don't make it in their sport. Or for life beyond that sport. And I do have families that are just the opposite. They really stress the scholastics, the kids realize I have to get a degree, I have to have a job for if my sport doesn't work or when I'm done with sports. So I think that's important. We have to remember too, though, it's hard to compare us to certain foreign countries when their system is different, when they it actually Dick at this time what children do and where they go into sport, and how they're kind of self selected. So it's in the exactly comparing apples to apples, but we do need to stress that there is life beyond sport.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And sports can -- is supposed to help kids academically, that kind of activity, and team work and so forth. There's supposed to be a crossover there, right?

STRICKER: Yes, discipline, they have so much time in the day to get it done. And you'll find a lot of these kids that are very good at juggling many balls at once. Including their scholastics. So it does have in many cases a good benefit for that, yes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's start going down this age guideline list you have for kids and sports. What kind of physical activities are kids below the anal of five capable of? I guess not too many team sports there. .

STRICKER: It's a cute age because the toddlers are learning, really, just by exploration. [CHECK] they're just learning how to run, hop, and throw, and learning how to balance. We don't think about that. But most kids around 5 or 6 are going through a temporary balance adjustment. And so while the parents are screaming go get the ball, get the ball, the kids think, don't fall down, don't fall down of they're really trying to stay upright. Their eventual centers are also very immature. So sports like T- ball, [CHECK] has been a very wonderful adaptation to that sport.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We started talking about little league, so what about kids ages about 6 to 10? What would be an appropriate time to sign these kids up for an organized sports team?

STRICKER: That 6 to 9 age group is a really fascinating time. That's where they're really gaining the majority of their skills. I have to remind people that there is a sequence of development that we can't speedup to significantly. Of and that sequence carries through in these different age groups, but 6 to 9 is when they're really gaining the majority of their foundational skills such as throwing that would then lead to a transitional skill later which is throwing for accuracy. So their vision starts to improve, sequentially, so they're doing better with objects coming toward them. Eventually, then, running after a ball in the outfield comes better about age nine or so. So it's all progressive. And they achieve adult running levels at about eight or so.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Really?

STRICKER: So it all starts to mature a lot during that age group.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: [CHECK] how does that actually display itself on the playing field?

STRICKER: It's quite interesting because around 10, 11, they really started to mature a lot of those foundational skills, they've progressed on their transitioning, they're doing really, really well, they feel like they're mastering those skills, and then all of a sudden boom. Puberty hits. And it's like DNA on caffeine, [CHECK] they start missing things, they trip, they can't catch a ball or hit a ball. It becomes a time when most adults will start to panic, and I always start to remind them [CHECK].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And when does the body catch up in I mean, when can somebody -- you know, we always hear about athletes being younger and younger and younger, when is an age when your full adult abilities as an athlete actually kick in?

STRICKER: Usually most boys have finished their most significant growth around 16, and girls by 13 or 14. And at that point, we really feel they are in that young adult state where now they're refining, they're getting more strength, their physiology will really allow them to develop their aerobic talent much better, which really wasn't as possible prior to puberty. So that's definitely the physical development, the chemical develop, [CHECK] and they're all happening on different tracks parallel.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There's so much to this subject. Unfortunately we are out of time right now. Of but I want to tell even about your book, sports success RX, and of course thank my guest, doctor Paul Stricker, pediatrician specializing in sports medicine for skips health. Thank you so much.

STRICKER: Thank you, it was my pleasure.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And if you'd like to comment, you can go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days. Coming up some rare and unusual holiday music, that's as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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