Teens at risk of 'burnout' by playing too many sports
THE country's young sports people are suffering serious burnout from overtraining and playing for too many teams across too many sports, a special investigation by the Irish Independent has found.
Leading clinicians, sports scientists and coaches from a variety of disciplines say aspiring athletes are now at the "mercy" of coaches and are participating in rigorous training regimes that are "out of kilter" with what their bodies can handle.
Professor Niall Moyna from the Dublin City University School of Health and Human Performance said we were now seeing injuries in teenagers that were "unthinkable 20 years ago".
Dr Pat O'Neill, a specialist in sports medicine at the Mater Hospital, said over-exercise was a serious issue for people aged 18 to 23 and was leading to both physical and psychological problems.
Both men were on a GAA Burnout taskforce in 2007 which found one-third of players aged 16 to 24 were playing for at least five different teams in one competitive season, while a further 26pc played for seven or more teams.
Another third surveyed "suffered from elevated physical and emotional exhaustion" and 36pc reported conflict with managers regarding playing for too many teams.
Prof Moyna says the problems highlighted are continuing today. "What has happened over the last 10 years or so is that the training regimes involved in participation have gone out of kilter altogether. They're imposing tremendous demands on a player and the problem we have in Ireland is that we're a crazy country for participating," he told the Irish Independent.
He said many young people were suffering from "overtraining syndrome" as a result of not allowing for enough recovery time between exercise.
"What's happening week in, week out with kids is they are being asked to train with multiple teams, play multiple games, sometimes two games in one day - and the big issue is it's happening without appropriate recovery. This is why I think we're starting to see injuries in teenage kids that were unthinkable 20 years ago," he said.
"There is also a problem of 'instant gratification' by coaches. In a lot of cases, particularly in school, whether it's rugby or football or hockey, it's not about the long-term development of the child physically. It's about 'we have to win the competition this year'."
Dr O'Neill said he regularly saw injuries to the groin, lower back and tendon injuries, such as the Achilles and patella in the knee, because of people over-doing it in training.
"I think young people push themselves too far and the problem then can be they opt out. That creates a scenario of going the other way and then obesity and all the other health problems that follow.
"Often the micro injuries are more problematic than acute macro injuries, particularly on the muscular-skeletal system because they take a long time to recover. This adds to the frustration because players are inhibited and may not be able to perform at optimum level. Then they opt out," he explained.
Philip Lawlor, Leinster's domestic rugby manager, says one way to tackle the problem is for parents to take greater responsibility for how much physical activity their children engage in. "If you go from one sport to another sport, while everyone will tell you, 'oh yes, we'll look after the player', the reality is that kids will do whatever coaches ask them to do," he said.
But Dr Drew Harrison, a senior lecturer in Biomechanics at University of Limerick, said it can be difficult for parents to "police" their children's physical activity and it is up to professional clubs to ensure young people are not being overworked.