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Top 5 Challenges Of Long-Term Athletic Development

Leandi Van Zyl

Lead - Sport Science / Strength & Conditioning Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital

4 min read

All youth development sporting programmes have two objectives: to develop athletes to the best of their abilities and to develop children with a clear sense of the importance of physical activity for health and well-being. Here are some of the problems that limit physical activity participation today and which can lead to unhealthy adults in the future.

Physical inactivity

Research shows that children are becoming less active in recent years. This is particularly true in India as children have less time to play because of increased demands of school work. Inactivity is fueled by the increase in watching television and playing online games, poor nutrition, and sharp decrease in active transportation to get to school, poor sleeping habits and a reduction in physical education classes. These factors not only influence younger athlete’s performance later on, it also influences general health and well-being of young children.

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Obesity/overweight youth

Obesity in children has seen a sharp rise in recent years. Getting children who are overweight into an exercise routine should be done with caution and proper progression. Underuse injuries are common among obese and overweight youth. This is due to the lack of postural and neural muscular control, inadequate overall body strength and reduced motor control development. There is a greater risk for overweight and obese children to get injured from participating in sport. A programme that includes light low impact conditioning activities should be done before progressing to sport.


Early sport specialization

This is when young athletes are limited to only one sport, year round. Early specialization is usually preferred for sports such as gymnastics because of the demands of the sport and the average age of professionals. However, research suggests that such athletes should also engage in a well-rounded strength and conditioning programme in order to develop overall qualities that could prevent injuries. Athletes who specialize early are at a big risk of overtraining, overuse injuries and burnout. Overtraining is when an athlete trains and participates in sport without adequate rest and recovery. Overtraining can lead to overuse injuries. Research suggests that athletes should take part in multiple sports instead of specializing only in one. This has been shown to be very beneficial in the child’s overall development of athletic qualities.


Training workloads of youth

Coaches and sports medicine professionals tend to train young athletes like they are little adults. This causes coaches to over train young athletes leading to injuries and burnout. Coaches should allow for sufficient rest, recovery, adaptation to training and growth, otherwise it can negatively affect a young athlete’s health. The main focus of any programme with young athletes should be on quality and not quantity. Another aspect that impacts training loads is pressure from the coaches and parents. Young athletes feel pressurized to participate in as many competitions as possible and if they can’t participate or don’t perform they feel like a failure. It is important for coaches and parents to be educated themselves about the negative effects of high training workloads and unrealistic expectations on young athletes. If young athletes are pushed too hard, without adequate recovery and without appropriate intrinsic goals they might end up resenting the sport and stop participating in physical activity altogether.


Current physical education scenario in schools

In schools that have physical education it is not customized to the individual child’s needs. Many children who are not active, struggle to keep up with the group and this can have negative effects on their self-esteem and relationship with physical activity. Additionally, many physical education teachers are not trained properly and they do not understand how to holistically train young people. It is very important for physical education teachers to be educated on the physiological and psychosocial aspects involved in physical activity in young developing children.

Young athletes can be fragile and need to be nurtured with the utmost care. The main goal of physical activity for younger athletes is to develop a sense of lifelong physical activity participation. This is only achieved through making sport participation and training fun without overtaxing their body. The role of the coach and parent is equally important in developing a sense of enjoyment through sport!

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