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The Offseason

Written by Danny Singles, PT, DPT, MA. Posted in Family Health.

OffSeasonNoted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews recently authored a book about the current injury epidemic in youth sports.

Reading this book reinforced some beliefs about what I see daily in my clinic. Pre-teen and teenage athletes are constantly coming into the clinic with sports related injuries. They trickle in during the summer like drips of water from a leaky faucet. By midway through fall and into the spring, there is a steady stream of young athletes who do not make it through their seasons. Some of these injuries are traumatic, some are not. Almost all have one thing in common. The athletes who sustain them seem to be the ones who play a single sport all year round. This leads me to the topic of this month's article. What happened to the offseason?

Literally, the "offseason" used to be a season off. Time spent away from a primary sport or physical activity to allow the body to recover from fatigue, wear and tear, and injury sustained during a competitive season. The "offseason" once allowed an athlete to train, to develop, and to improve their overall athletic ability. The "offseason" was crucial to a good season – how you took care of yourself in the "off season" could dictate how you did in the competitive season and if you stayed healthy.

From Little League to club Lacrosse to Ballet dancing to club Soccer and everything in between, an offseason is an increasingly rare concept. Far too often, I have young patients that sustain serious overuse or traumatic injuries that might have been prevented if they were able to develop more balance in their musculoskeletal system. Instead of a season off to pursue other interests, take care of their bodies, and develop better control, coordination, balance, and safe movement patterns, they pursue a particular activity all year.

What are these safe movement patterns that they miss out on? Think of all the skills you learn on a playground while playing tag or catch (ex: squatting, running, jumping, landing, ducking, swinging, climbing, turning, pivoting, cutting, throwing, pushing, pulling, etc.) – raw athletic skills that are needed as the basis for safe movement in any athletic activity. These are exactly the type of skills that most of my young injured patients do not have. They are immensely skilled at a particular activity or sport because they have done it 24/7 since age 10 or younger. Their muscles, bones, nervous system, and whole bodies, however, have only adapted to the stresses of this one particular activity so that now, at age 14 or 15 or 16, they are very specific in their ability to control their body in skills related to that activity. This is a very bad thing. Being imbalanced in this way opens the door for injury – competitive sports require specificity of skills, but not of athletic movement. Athletic movement must be good movement regardless of sport. It transcends sport or activity and is a universal. Look again at that above list of "playground skills." Almost any of them can be present in any sport.

Without these fundamentally sound movement patterns, the kind that can only develop from doing multiple activities, an athlete is likely at an increased risk for injury. I commonly expect to see these imbalances in adults who are more specialized in their activities in life. Unfortunately, it is also becoming all too common a sight for me in the clinic to see younger patients with the same imbalances I might see in an adult. How does this happen? Many reasons exist, but the one we are focusing on here in this article is the lack of an offseason. Participating year round in a single sport, often with multiple teams at once, allows no time for the body to rest, recover, repair, and rebuild. How do we bring back the offseason?

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that to a young athlete with college scholarship aspirations, an offseason seems to be wasted time. "You mean I have to spend 3 months away from tennis/swimming/soccer/lacrosse/basketball etc and do something else?" An offseason can be active rest – an athlete can do cardio and strength training to maintain and improve fitness. Or, it can be time to pursue a secondary sport. What are secondary sports? I honestly despise the term, because the notion of a primary sport or a secondary sport is also foreign to me. I was a multi-sport athlete throughout high school and never hurt. Admittedly, my 34 year old brain isn't what it used to be, but I remember very few non-traumatic overuse injuries in my teammates. In any case, there certainly weren't droves of student-athletes coming into athletic training rooms with injuries they way they do now. Anecdotal and weak evidence I know, but take a moment and think about your own experience as a young athlete (if you played sports). I'd bet yours is similar to mine.

Many young athletes I talk to have known what their primary sport is for several years by the time they are a pre-teen. It's as if they forget about exploring their interests and become pigeon-holed as a tennis player, soccer player, basketball player, or dancer long before their bodies have even finished physically maturing. I am always struck by this when watching professional sports – the announcers often talk about what incredible athletes these men and women are and how they excelled in multiple sports in high school and many of them in did so in college as well. For most of their playing careers they pursued balance in their activities. That right there should be a big clue; to excel, you need the balance that multiple activities provides. Again, an offseason is a perfect time to devote to such activities.

Maybe you are considering giving an offseason rest or offseason activity a try? For you, your young athletes, or anyone else, the body needs its season off.

Danny Singles, PT, DPT, MA
Danny is a sports physical therapist who specializes in manual therapy. His clinical interests include injury prevention, working with sports and orthopedic injuries, pre and post surgical rehab, and working with the pediatric patient population. He attended the University of Delaware for his Doctorate in Physical Therapy. Currently, he works full time as an outpatient sports therapist and provides educational outreach through lectures at local schools and fitness centers. He can be reached at Elite PT in Hockessin, DE at: (302-234-1030) or emailed directly at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He can also be followed on Twitter (@MoveEqualsLife) for current updates about health and wellness.
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