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Kids and Sport – Are they hurting themselves under the pretence of play?

Back in the 80’s we were lucky as kids to do about 3 sessions of extracurricular sport a week. Perhaps one netball / footy training session during the week followed by the competition match on the weekend. I actually did no out-of-school sport at all whereas my wife did netball twice a week and gymnastics once a week (3 sessions). How about you?

These days a lot of kids do upwards of 5 sports sessions a week and some do as many as 10. Some of us think the more sport our kids do the happier they are (and the better they sleep). As a physiotherapist I have extensively studied the effects of sport on the growing body and here are my thoughts.

Sport teaches children the importance of maintaining fitness; it helps develop social skills, to work in a team, aids in the regulation of emotions to perform under pressure and enhances self-esteem. Kids love sport, so of course get them active and out in the fresh air (and away from those evil screens). But as with most aspects of life, too much of anything can be harmful.

Occasionally, saying “no” to our children is the healthy sporting option because it allows time for physical, emotional and psychological recovery from sport. This is an important part of training….recovery.



So how many sessions should a child under 18 be doing?


In my opinion between 2 and 7 of sport a week is about the right amount. This includes training sessions and match days.




1. Within children’s body’s there are bones called growth plates. If you overload these with too much activity (ie lots and lots of sport) you are at higher risk of growth plate injuries. These types of injuries can put your child out of sport totally for extended periods of time.

2. Studies have also highlighted that during puberty, injuries increase because some muscle groups develop sooner than others. As such, some are stronger than others which cause imbalance and instability.

3. Have you noticed the huge size difference of children in their tweens and teens? My 12 and 14yr old boys have not yet had a significant growth spurt and could easily pass for 7 and 11yr olds yet some of the boys they play against look like they could drive themselves to sport. I cringe every time I see them going in for a tackle.

4. Children play sport categorised by chronological age rather than weight divisions so their structure, function, and performance can differ significantly. As a result, late maturing young athletes are at a disadvantage against their physically larger (but the same age), opponents. This can lead to an increase in sporting injuries.

5. Children are constantly growing, their brains are learning, they are eating, moving and absorbing everything around them. This makes them tired and adding too much sport could increase fatigue and can greatly increase the chance of injury.

6. While most injuries are minor, some are so severe they require immediate medical attention and extensive rehabilitation to overcome and can have lasting effects into adulthood.

7. If your child seems exhausted, injured, or unable to recover fully from sport, he may be training too hard. Another burnout signal: Kids may also lose interest in activities they used to enjoy.

8. Keep your child physically and mentally healthy by encouraging him to try different sports throughout the year, and to mix in other activities on days he doesn’t have practice or games.


What do your kids play?


My elder son, who is in yr 7 at high school, trains for school sport once a week with matches on a Saturday and also has training once a week. He has 3 ‘out-of-school’ sessions with plenty of during-school sport. This gives him plenty of time for his increasing homework schedule as well as Nerf-war with his little brother.

My younger son is in yr 5 at primary school and has tennis training once a week with a match on Sunday and also has Taekwondo training once a week. He has 3 ‘out-of-school’ sessions. He recently dropped gymnastics which was also once a week but was finding it too tiring as the time slot didn’t finish till 7.30pm.

Jonathan Harris

APA Sports & Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist

Nepean Physio Clinic

844 Nepean Hwy, Hampton E.

References: - Caine et al 2014 - Shanmugam and Maffulli 2008 - Schwebel and Brezusek 2014

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