Tommy John, a chiropractor who goes by “Dr. Tommy,” knows a thing or two about injuries. The former college pitcher saw his own career cut short by a compromised shoulder. And in 1974, his father, former Yankee hurler Tommy John Jr., underwent a groundbreaking, now-namesake elbow surgery that has greatly impacted the game of baseball. The surgery — which uses a tendon to replace a blown elbow ligament — allowed many pitchers to extend their careers after enduring wear and tear.
But it was John’s work as a performance coach that opened his eyes to the epidemic that was ruining youth sports.
“We’re seeing degenerative injuries in younger and younger athletes,” John tells The Post. “Everybody gets injured, but the types [of injuries] we’re seeing now are completely preventable.”
And the intensity that leads to injury might not be worth it in the long run: According to John’s book, only 2.1% of high school baseball players go on to play Division 1 ball.
With his new book “Minimize Injury, Maximize Performance: A Sports Parent’s Survival Guide,” (Da Capo press) the San Diego-based chiropractor hopes to help parents teach their young athletes how to stay in the game by focusing on their health. Here’s some of his best advice.
1. Don’t zero in on just one sport too soon
“The single biggest factor for youth injuries is early specialization,” says John. Instead of rotating between three sports throughout the year, athletes are now only focusing on one. Doing that before your body is fully developed is wreaking havoc. “It’s doing repetitive motions when the body isn’t able to handle that yet,” he says. “It dumbs the body down and makes it prone to overuse injuries.”
He recommends that athletes hold off on focusing on one sport until mid- to late-high school.
2. Create an off-season plan
Many athletes feel pressure to join any and all competitive teams because they fear they won’t be taken as seriously by coaches if they don’t — and that they’ll get left in the dust by their peers who are playing year-round. Young athletes should let coaches know they’re serious about getting better, but also being more well-rounded, John says.
Work with your child to come up with other ways to contribute to their knowledge of the sport without simply playing it. Says John, “We tell kids to not specialize but we don’t ever give an alternative.” John suggests swapping lessons for a library card, allowing athletes to learn about the sport through reading about it. Or, plan family visits to sports-centric museums, exhibitions or stadiums.
Plus, just because they’re off-season doesn’t mean they can laze about: Ditch the video games and explain that staying active — such as by doing household chores or playing casual pick-up games — is part of off-season training too.
‘We’re seeing degenerative injuries in younger and younger athletes. Everybody gets injured, but the types we’re seeing now are completely preventable.’
3. Clean up their diets
John encourages kids to eat organic fruits and veggies and healthy fats such as grass-fed butter and coconut oil. Limit soda and processed foods.
“Stick with foods that rot,” says John.
Also, avoid sports drinks, even though they’re ubiquitous on the sidelines of kids’ games.
“They’re loaded with stuff you don’t need. Nature’s water bottle is an apple or a piece of fruit.” If your kid is in need of a replenishing electrolyte-rich drink, John suggests adding a pinch of Himalayan salt to a glass of water.
4. Focus on breath
Kids today “are so ramped up and anxious,” says John, that “they’re constantly in fight-or-flight, which lowers the immune system.”
Certain breathing techniques can boost the parasympathetic nervous system which aids recovery, says John, who suggests kids try the “4-1-8-1” method: Breathe in through the nose for four seconds, hold for one second and then breathe out for 8 seconds. Take a break for one second, and start the pattern up again. He advises practicing this for a couple of minutes both pre- and post-game and before bed.
“There’s no way to overdo it. The more the better,” says John adding,
“We highly recommend the parents do this as well.”
5. Teach them how to move
“The current American training model is bigger, faster, stronger by any means possible,” says John. But this system is simply piling strength on poor foundations, which makes kids susceptible to injuries.
John conducts a nine-move assessment for patients, which allows him to understand their strengths and weaknesses, including balance issues.
The following three key moves, which can be done at home, can help uncover potential issues:
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