A Note to Parents of Student-Athletes

Hannah Cline's picture
By Hannah Cline on June 6, 2016

The following article was written by Carilion Clinic orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine subspecialist Jon Maher, M.D. His prior experience includes a 14-year career in the Navy taking care of the Marines and Navy SEAL Teams. He previously served as a team physician for the Boston Celtics and the Harvard University Athletic Department. 

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As a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon, sports medicine subspecialist and a father, I can attest to the health and educational benefits of athletics for students of all ages. Nevertheless, I also encounter the other end of the spectrum where athletics, due to stress or injury, can be detrimental to the athlete.

Parenting is a wide playing field with many avenues to success.  Regardless of your parenting paradigm, here are three basic strategies that can help your student-athlete succeed on and off the court:

1. Keep it fun!

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”   - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sports can be a great diversion from the pressures of student life, providing physical and mental stress-relieving benefits.  Unfortunately, if the fun is lost, sports can also have detrimental effects. If a student-athlete is not having fun, parents should re-examine their child’s sport experience.  When a sporting activity becomes an adverse pressure on the student-athlete, many of the benefits of sports are negated. 

2. Avoid helicopter parenting.

One source of negative pressure on student-athletes can come from parents. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as helicopter parenting. 

I was recently at a sports dinner with Coach David Crist (40-year football coach of Blacksburg high school and a living legend) when he was asked if he observed any changes in student-athletes over his career.  He replied, without hesitation, “The athletes have always remained the same; it’s the parents who have changed.”

Parents don’t wake up in the morning thinking that they are going to harm their child, but many inadvertently do with the pressures placed on their children to succeed.  Student-athletes may be encouraged to play through injury, train for excessive periods or continue an activity they are no longer interested in.  

This situation can arise from many factors, but some of the most prevalent include living vicariously through the student-athlete, a hope for a future college scholarship or just wanting the best for their child.  Parents should periodically take a step back and reexamine their student-athlete’s activities to ensure they are participating for the right reasons.

3. Make sure your student-athlete gets the proper rest and recovery time.

Regardless of where the pressures on student-athletes come from, one detrimental situation that we often encounter as medical professionals is overtraining. 

Many young athletes today are becoming specialized at an early age into a single sport with repetitive focused training.  Some are even playing on multiple teams during the same season to maximize their exposure and experience.  This trend and practice is very risky and often harmful, especially to younger athletes.

A developing athlete’s body needs time to rest and recover from the stresses of a particular sport.  Playing a single sport year round at a young age and not allowing adequate time for recovery between workouts can result in career-ending injuries. 

Cross-training, the practice of training in diverse sports and athletic activities, helps a student-athlete develop into a well-rounded athlete, as well as provides a protective function from overuse injuries. 

Longitudinal studies show that a student-athlete is more likely to make it to the elite level as a professional or scholarship college athlete if they play multiple sports at a young age rather than specializing in a single sport.

Putting It All Together

In summary, to help your student-athlete flourish and maximize his or her health and success, get involved for the right reasons, increase the diversity of activities, make sure athletes get adequate rest for recovery and development, and most of all, have fun!