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To Play or Not to Play?
(Brent Holtgrewe is a board certified Athletic Trainer from St. Louis, Missouri; with extensive knowledge and training in orthopedic assessment, sport specific injuries, and sports enhancement training. Brent runs First Choice’s MVP Sports Enhancement program, and has been an employee since 2004.)

It is the year of 2013, and the marvels of developing technologies, as well as the knowledge accompanying these developments is breathtaking if not slightly overwhelming. Take, for example, the astonishing developments in modern medicine, and the velocity of speed at which it continues to adapt and develop along with the times, and the ever present human need for medical care and attention. Modern medicine is helping us to live longer, it is curing diseases that consumed entire nations of people and were once thought to be in-curable, and those who practice medicine are able to perform spectacular surgical feats; such as total joint replacements and the use of prosthetics for those who lose an appendage, allowing them the ability to return to things like running or simply walking their dog.

However, even with such amazing technology and extensive knowledge of the medicinal process, athletes still manage to get injured. Injuries as simple as a muscle strain, or an ankle sprain, along with injuries that are as complex as they are devastating like an ACL tear, often require the work of an orthopedic surgeon, effectively plaguing our youth and ending careers that never really even began. Even with the progress in bio-mechanics, kinesiology, physiology, and the perfection of proper techniques for the body, we cannot, for some reason, keep our athletes healthy.

Twenty years ago, it was unheard of for a twelve year old to have an elbow injury that required surgical intervention, or surgery to replace a torn ACL due to sports at such a young age, but unfortunately across our country, this has become commonplace. Why? As a people we are smarter and more informed than we have ever been before; with fancy gadgets and flashy toys marketed specifically for younger athletes, promising to give them the upper hand, and make them the best possible player for their chosen sport as quickly as possible. This leads to injuries for an athlete, which are being treated, but what about prevention?

One issue that has been recognized by many is the new competitiveness of athletics, even at the beginning levels of a sport. There is a demand placed on our children to compete at high levels, forcing them to play their sport year round without a break, without a change of pace, and without an off season, all in an effort to never lose the upper hand. Our kids no longer play to just play the game. During my childhood, summers consisted of riding bikes for hours, jumping off ramps and over ditches, playing pickup games of basketball, soccer, hockey, and football; and that was all in one day! We jumped rope, played dodge ball and hop scotch, and swam in the local rivers. This “Play time” is what allowed us to develop naturally into athletes, teaching us to climb, jump, cut, dodge, hang, and run, creating the building blocks from which an athlete is formed and injury prevention begins. In our modern age however, children seem to be losing this “play time”. As a result, the “Multi Sport” athlete has faded away, and our children are forced to choose what their sport “identity” will be (a soccer player, a baseball player, a football player, and so on), as young as the age of ten. Children are losing the basics of athletics and injury prevention by losing their inherent ability to be children; instead spending their summers playing multiple games in tournaments every weekend, attending weeks long camps and grueling practices, losing the chance to naturally gain those building blocks necessary for an athlete.

Instead of trying to make our children into the next Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, or Alber Poujols, we need to instead encourage our kids to “play”, and not consume themselves into one sport. Too many kids never learn basic things like how to jump rope, skip, bound, or gallop until they are in high school. These activities are vital building blocks that a child needs to help them develop and prevent many potential injuries along the way of their athletic career. One of the key components in developing a successful training regimen is muscle confusion. If all a child does from the age of six is play baseball four seasons a year, the muscles never get a chance for such muscle confusion, but rather become over used, leading to a high risk of injury. Urge your children to play a sport that is out of their comfort zone (and perhaps even yours!), to just play something for fun, or taking the season off to be a kid. Even Professionals have an off season, and for good reason. Preventing an injury is a much better treatment than having to rehabilitate one, so find an off season, actually take if OFF, and play!

Brent Holtgrewe BSC., ATC, LAT, PES