Overtraining Your Kids: Too Much, Too Soon?

Over the years, school sports in Singapore are becoming more and more challenging and demanding. No longer just a social event, the competitions are now extremely competitive. Either this is because schools are putting more focus on competitive sports as a way of raising their profile, or parents are seduced by the notion of nurturing the next Olympic champion, the reality is that school kids in Singapore are training harder than ever, for longer, more intense sessions. 

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Overtraining is an issue for two reasons:

1) Burnout:

Paediatric burnout, or ‘overtraining syndrome’ is more than just being tired. It is the body's physiological and psychological response to chronic stress. This can happen when excessive demand is placed on the young athletes – either in volume (too many sessions in a week) or intensity (too much pressure to perform).

What are the signs of burnout from overtraining?

  • Fatigue: Does your child wakes up in the morning and still complains about being tired? Or do their teachers comment about them being sleepy at school?

  • Low self-esteem: Is your kid suddenly telling you that they are ‘not good’ at a particular sport, or want to drop out of the competition because it's not fun anymore?

  • Low immune system: Has your child been falling sick easily and frequently?

  • Irritability: Has your once-happy child suddenly become withdrawn and snappy with you and his coaches? This is a natural response to chronic stress.

  • Depression: In extreme cases, athletic burnout can trigger bouts of depression in kids as young as 12 if they are pressured by high expectations to perform.

2) Overuse Injuries:

At the UFIT Clinic here in Singapore, we are seeing more and more ‘overuse injuries’ in young kids. What are we referring to? Inflammation of tendons and ligaments, issues such as Osgood-Schlatters, or Sever’s syndrome, and even stress fractures in developing bones. These are most commonly seen in young athletes who participate in two or more sports. Coaches are usually aware of not overworking their athletes. However, when your child goes from session to session, and coach to coach, the cumulative effect of all that physical work can lead to a burnout, constant muscle fatigue, or worse, forcing your child to sit out of the sport due to injuries.

The Good News? Both Burnout and Overuse Injuries are entirely preventable!

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Review your child's weekly schedule for sports training, including all school-based activities (PE classes, etc). You might be surprised by the amount of time your child spends on physical activities! Ask your child if they are happy with the amount of physical training they are participating in - do they feel pressured to train? You can also consider speaking to your child’s coaches if you feel that their training schedule is too demanding. Show them your child’s physical activity schedule – they might also be surprised!

We recommend that your child should have at least one full day of rest in a week, and no more than two days a week with two scheduled training sessions. This will certainly prevent the possibility of burnout and overuse injuries. With your child happier and more relaxed, that will actually lead to better sporting performance!

About the Author

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Declan has always maintained a strong interest in sports, and has previously worked as an Academy Physiotherapist for Crystal Palace Football Club (a professional football club in London, England), He was also the Rehabilitation Coach for the Western Province Stormers Academy (a professional rugby club in Cape Town, South Africa). Within Asia, he consults for the Indonesian Athletics Association as a Performance coach and physiotherapist for their Olympic athletes and Elite Development Squad.