By Gwen OKeeffe

Jason Varitek gets one. So do David Ortiz, Tom Brady, and LeBron James and just about every other professional athlete on the planet. But more and more youth athletes don’t get one, even though their growing bodies need one even more than the pros.  What am I talking about?  An off-season.

Time off is important for your child, not just from sports, but from all organized activities. The off season is what will help create balance and help give your child time to regroup and refresh, both in body and mind. The pros do this, and so, too, should your child!

What Is an Off-Season?

Even if you buy into the notion that pro sports are a template on which to model youth sports (when, in fact, they are fundamentally different in so many ways), one has to ask  why all pro sports get an off season – and a big one – but youth sports do not. This is not an academic question at all but a practical one and one that impacts the very health and well being of our kids.

In fact, the lack of an off-season is an important symptom of just how out of control youth sports has become. It’s an even bigger mystery why community-based coaches and parents fail to heed the cries of young athletes whose bodies and minds are screaming out that enough is enough, as evidenced by the record numbers of overuse injuries and the high rate of sports burnout.

It really isn’t any mystery why so many youth athletes these days are getting injured.  Fully half of all youth sports injuries are overuse injuries, the direct result of three factors:

1.      Kids being pushed too hard in sports in general
2.      Kids not being allowed to rest after an injury
3.      Kids not being allowed to rest after a season -  i.e. not having an off season!

The concept of an off season is simple. Practice and play hard during the season but spend time off  away from sports doing something different. That’s why you see so many pros playing golf in the off season! Indeed, Brian Grasso, Executive Director of the International Youth Conditioning Association, says the off-season is so important that he takes the view that  “true athletic development and the ascension to becoming a better athlete isn’t possible without one.”

“The key”, notes Grasso, “is to make sure that people understand the notion of off-season not as completely devoid of exercise or even competition, but more accurately a re-characterization of the activity stimulus that young athletes encounter. Simply put, play a different sport. Participate in no organized sports, but remain informally active.”

Eric Cressey, strength and conditioning specialist at Cressey Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts,  who has trained all levels of athlete from youth level to Olympic level, shares Grasso’s perspective: “The in-season period is the ideal time to develop the player, but the rest of the year should focus on developing the athlete.  This should take place at the Olympic and professional levels, making it even more important at the youth levels. The off-season is a time to escape from competition and focus on preparing the body in a general sense for what’s ahead.”

For proof as to the need for an off season, one needs look no further than the injury rates we are witnessing in today’s youth sports. Dr. Pierre D’Hemecourt, Pediatric Orthopedist at Children’s Hospital Boston, reports “an exponential rise” in overuse and repetitive use injuries over the last decade. Like Grasso and Cressey, he feels the lack of free play and cross training are the culprits. To add insult to injury, kids are also not being allowed to heal properly after an injury. The pros have a disabled list. Why not youth sports teams?

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