In the past, a young athlete's closet might be packed with multiple types of sports gear, resulting in a jumble of tennis racquets, baseball gloves, and running shoes.
But increasingly, an emphasis on excelling in a single sport is whittling down that equipment stash — and significantly reducing recovery time as well.
Less Recovery, More Injuries
Focus on mastering a particular sport often leads to year-round competitions, clinics, and camps, which means that athletes don't get "off seasons" like they used to.
This increases the risk of overuse injuries considerably, since there are no breaks for the body to make necessary adjustments and repairs, which are particularly essential for younger athletes. Kids and teenagers are still going through numerous changes in their hormone levels, muscle mass, bone growth, and joint laxity. Depriving the body of the time and rest it needs to work on these changes may be setting athletes up for chronic injury.
Even for young athletes who do multiple sports, intense competition can put stress on the body and heighten the chances of problems. Recovery periods not only give the body a chance to rest and rebuild, but also maximizes muscle repair.
More Recovery, Better Performance
In addition to preventing injuries, recovery periods can lead to more optimized sports performance.
For some young athletes, that might seem counterintuitive — after all, what's more effective: training or recovery? But that's a trick question, because they're equally important, and they both contribute to more strength, speed, and conditioning.
During recovery times, an athlete should focus on hydration, nutrition, stretching, and rest. That contributes to a whole-body recovery strategy that leaves a young athlete feeling refreshed and ready to take on higher levels of training.
Without recovery, the opposite is true — training can lead to fatigue and stress, which may result in mood changes, difficulty concentrating, and frustration over performance plateaus.
Part of the appeal of intense training for young athletes is that they become proficient at a certain sport, or a couple pursuits. But without proper recovery, it's difficult to avoid injury and stay at the top of your game, no matter what your sport might be.
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