User:U3053471/The Effects of Over-Training on Young, Developing Athletes

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Australia is known for its strongly developed, and passionate sporting culture. Sport is not 'just a game' in our country, it's a lifestyle, and the future of this lifestyle depends on the development of today's young athletes. It's every young athlete's dream to one day be the best at their chosen sport, but could their commitment, and drive to achieve this actually be working against them. Australian children are encouraged from all angles to participate in physical activities, but they're never taught how to realise when they may be participating too often or too intensely. From a young age if an athlete is considered to be talented, displaying traits or skills allowing them to be identified as a future superstar in their chosen sport they are encouraged to train harder, and participate more; thus allowing for further development and continued monitoring. This encouragement is a positive initiative in regards to the future of Australian sport, however it's this over-training from an early age that's leading to increasing rates of over-use injuries, and also the occurrence of “burnout” in many young athletes; which then results in excessive fatigue, decreased performance levels, and in some cases, the end of that athlete's career. Many of our future athletes are currently being haunted by this growing epidemic, and many will contine to be in the future if the syndrome is not respected and dealt with accordingly.It is important to ensure our young athletes are encouraged and assisted with their athletic development, but guidelines need to be put in place to ensure they all remain fit and healthy throughout this progression.

Over-training Syndrome Defined[edit]

The effects of overtraning can be detrimental to all athletes, at any age and any level of competition. The US Olympic committee defines overtraining as 'the syndrome that results when excessive, usually physical, overlaod on an athlete occurs without adequate rest, resulting in a decrease in performance and the inability to train'. Over-training syndrome is highly common amongst the world's population of elite athletes due to their need to specialise their training programs. It is a syndrome that can force an athlete into retirement if not dealt with appropriately as it can progress into a reoccurring injury, or even worse. The syndrome is now becoming increasingly prevalent within the world's youth population, and most commonly displays itself in the form of overuse injuries. Overuse injuries are also known as microtrauma. They are recognised by the presence of disrupted tissue integrity as a result from repeatititive, abnormal stresses applied to the tissue through continuous training or training with too little recovery time. They may also occur due to poor training errors (e.g. increasing training load too quickly), suboptimal training surfaces, poor biomechanics or technique during performance, insufficient motor control, decreased flexibility or imbalances between strength and flexibility, uneven skeletal/body alignment, or previous injuries. The most common type of overuse injury occur in bones and are known as stress fractures. They often result from a rapid increase in training volume or intensity, or from excessive training on hard surfaces with insufficient rest periods. These types of fractures are most prevalent in the lower extremities of the body, more specifically the tibia with an incidence rate of 51% (1988, Yngve) of all overuse injuries that occur in young athletes. Other types of overuse injures occur commonly within tendons located within the body and involve inflammation of the area, or redness, soreness and swelling. This type of injury is known as a condition called tendinitis. It has high prevalence rates and occurs from the tendon repeatedly rubbing against a bony structure, ligament, another tendon, or from becoming displaced from it's usual position. If this condition is left untreated it will progress to chronic tendinitis or tendinopathy.

Prevalence and Impacts[edit]

Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) is a rapidly growing epidemic. It is already prevalent but the incidence rate is still growing, and is becoming even more increasingly common amongst the world's athletes. It has been reported to be present in more than 60% of elite distance runners at some point in their career (Morgan et al, 1987); 21% of the Australian swimming team after 6 months of training for a national competition (Hooper et al, 1993); more than 50% of players in a soccer team in a competitive season (Lehmann et al, 1992); 28% of athletes competing in the 1996 Summer Olympics and 10% of athletes in the 1998 Winter Olympics (Gould et al, 2001). While the majority of these stat's are based on senior elite athletes, the prevalence in younger athletes is now becoming more common as well. It is occurring at all levels of competition, and is most obviously seen in the form of increased injury rates. “Young athletes appear to be at increased risk for overtraining from being pushed too hard and too fast in many instances...” (John M MacKnight, 2011). We are currently faced with stats such as, '41% of all stress fractures occurring in patients 19 years old and younger', and 'over use or repetitive trauma injuries represent approximately 50% of all pediatric sport-related injuries'.

One of the major factors contributing to the growing prevalence of overuse injuries in the younger population is due to the decision to specialise in one sport and concentrate solely on that particular sport all year round. The continuous, repetitive stresses placed on the body from a young age are becoming a detrimental factor, handicapping both the athletes progress and performance results. Australia is a relatively active society, within the youth society 73% of boys and 62% of girls in Australia already participate in unorganised sport (e.g. bike riding, skateboarding, dancing) therefore it is unnecessary for them to also participate in equal levels of organised sport.

Besides the physical impacts these injuries have on the body they also impact in a number of other damaging ways. Over time the continual stresses placed on these damaged tissues can alter the way in which the body chemically responds to the physicality of workouts. Resulting in a reversed effect upon the beneficial gains that are expected from the workout. As the athlete begins to realise this lessened effect from training the issue also becomes a psychological one and can then result in an even greater decrease in performance. The issue then becomes not only physical but also an emotional and psychological battle meaning that extra effort is required to return to previous form.

Gymnastics is a sport continuously growing in popularity. It is incredibly physically demanding and places enormous amounts of repetitive stresses on the body. The human body was not designed to be able to withstand the unusual tricks and movements associated with the routines and exercises involved. Therefore, inevitably, injuries do occur, 'usually, but not solely, as a result of chronic microtrauma..', taking it's effect mainly in the wrists of the athletes. As gymnastics is an early specialisation sport the majority of these injuries are occurring in young athletes. However, even though this is common knowledge amongst those entrusted to train our future gymnasts the prevalence of overuse injuries still remains high.

Soccer is said to be the most popular team sport in the world. The Australian youth population play a role in contributing to this world number one status, with 22.5% of all young Australian's preferring to play it as their sport of choice, which also makes it the highest nationally played game for our youth population. Despite it's popularity, like any other sport there is a high risk of injury involved, studies conducted on both elite and non-elite players have shown almost equal rates of injuries across both genders. A specific study was undertaken 'Comprehensive warm-up programme to prevent injuries in young female footballers: cluster randomised controlled trial', to investigate weather pre-competition warm up factors could help lower the rates of injury within the sport. Results displayed a positive outcome for most classifications of injuries, including Overuse injury prevalence.

Suggested Theories and Management Solutions[edit]

It's only fair to question why we are seeing this continuous growth in overuse injuries within our junior athlete category when our knowledge of sports science is also continuously growing. To solve a problem it must first be understood why the problem exists and in relation to overtraining syndrome there are a few suggested theories.

Due to the commodification of sport our young athletes are now days exposed to a larger array of different sports via media coverage and other technologies. Their exposure to sports such as gymnastics, swimming and tennis in particular encourages the desire to specialise in one sport, with all three of these sports frequently focusing attention on several very talented, and also very young athletes. More generalised sports such as rugby league, AFL, and cricket are also starting to have the same impact with players as young as 16 years old making their debut at the professional level.

The success of these young athletes is a very powerful tool in initiating the drive within other young athletes to want to follow in this direction. Then add to this the realisation that most Olympic sports have training programs and selection processes that are designed for and aimed at recruiting future champions from our young athletic population and the dream of one day being one of these champions becomes a possible reality and the decision to specialise in one sport appears as a positive option.

Most young athletes see professional sport for all it's fame and glory and don't consider the amount of background work involved, or the consequences of the amount of work required. It is therefore the responsibility of those persons associated with the athlete to bring these things to their attention. However this isn't currently possible with the lack of widespread knowledge about the syndrome. There are several training guidelines and proteges designed to help combat the effects of OTS, such as Principles of Training, Periodisation, FITT principle, but until the OTS is granted worthy acknowledgement the significance of these guidelines are not properly understood. If professional sporting clubs and associations are going to continue with their athlete development programs and recruit athletes from a young age then the managment responsible need to ensure all staff are aware of this syndrome. They need to reinforce the importance of preventing the onset of the syndrome, and enforce safe guidelines which must be followed.

The best management is prevention. It is imperative that all coaches, trainers and even parents involved with young athletes are aware of the overtraining syndrome and maintain respect for the possible onset of the syndrome, and for the devastating effects that it can have. Of the high prevalence rate of overuse injuries occurring within the youth athlete category it is speculated that more than half of these injuries could possibly be prevented through the practise of a few simple approaches.

Well constructed training programs are a vital key in minimising the chances of onset of the overtraining syndrome. All training programs and schedules should be individualised to meet the athlete's personal and specific needs. They should incorporate the use of incremental increases in training, and they should contain an appropriate work to rest and recovery ratio. One way to ensure these things happen is to work inline with the periodisation of training model which systematically stresses the athlete's body in different ways and by different means depending on what time of year it is in relation to the athlete's competition period. This model of training also incorporates the FITTE training principle which is another tool that can be used to control the onset of overtraining syndrome.

Young athletes should not be encouraged to specialise in one sport from an early age. Instead children involved in sport should be encouraged to participate in a variety of different physical activities, both organised and unorganised. This then instigates a wider progression of skill development and places less repetitive stresses on the body.

When scheduling events for young athletes it is important to ensure that plenty of time is taken to carefully consider the needs and requirements of the athletes. Things such as the length of the event, the activity volume and intensity, recovery time between rest and competition periods, and between day sleep time all need to be considered with utmost precaution and diligence.


Further research is still needed to provide evidence-based guidelines for overuse injury prevention in young athletes. Numerous studies have been undertaken to investigate the prevalence and consequences of overtraining syndrome, however there is still not enough evidence or science based information to either support or disprove the risks involved. As youth participation levels in sport continue to rise it is now more important than ever that this growing epidemic is acknowledged and dealt with respectively. It is a serious and preventable matter that can end in devastation, and it should be dealt with in regards to this.


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