We grew up making mud pies, riding bikes until sundown, chasing lightning bugs, playing games of pick-up basketball and Sandlot-esque baseball games. Little League games were a once-a-week occurrence and heading to The Ballpark in Arlington or Texas Stadium to catch a game was a chance for us to see how the pros did it. Now, our sweet city, “Sports City USA,” has given our children incredible opportunities to grow up playing and practicing on the very fields and courts on which the pros hone their skills. Organized sports, the desire to excel in them, and working from a young age to reach lofty college and professional goals have all transformed sports and the way young men and women are traversing adolescence as they work so hard to achieve greatness.
Along with professional sports teams and facilities, Frisco has attracted some of the country’s premier sports medicine physicians right here at Frisco’s Scottish Rite for Children’s Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center to treat young athletes and help them through injury. Dr. Philip L. Wilson, M.D. serves as the Assistant Chief of Staff and Director of the Center for Excellence in Sports Medicine at Scottish Rite for Children where he is a pediatric orthopedic sports medicine surgeon and serves as the senior member of the pediatric sports medicine team at Scottish Rite for Children. Of the professionals he works with, Dr. Wilson says, “We have an incredibly talented, world class group of nurses, dietitians, psychologists, physical therapists, motion analysis scientists, researchers, physician assistants and advanced practice nurses, sports medicine physicians, radiologists and pediatric sports surgeons who are all dedicated to the clinical care, research and education surrounding pediatric and adolescent athletes. We are mission-driven to take care of the special needs of this challenging and rewarding population and feel lucky to be a part of the Frisco community. As young athletes grow up playing multiple or year-round sports, Dr. Wilson believes, now more than ever, it’s vitally important for parents to have a base knowledge of potential sports related injuries in order to be educated and prepared. He shares, “In generations past, we were almost protected from sports overuse injuries in childhood and adolescence due to the nature of changing sports seasons. More unorganized free play and scholastic-based seasonal sports meant that we were constantly being physically challenged in different ways throughout the year. Now that the landscape of youth sports has changed and become more specialized at earlier ages, this presents opportunities, but also real challenges regarding overuse. Since many parents have not experienced some of the aches and pains or potential injuries that their kids may be at risk for, we see education as an essential part of our role in the community.”
As organized sports have developed and changed through the years, children and young athletes are beginning to practice and play earlier and earlier in life, so prevention lies in both education and preparation. Dr. Wilson recommends that parents allow their children to try multiple sports in an effort to allow their bodies to develop while learning new skills. “Variety is the key,” Dr. Wilson advises. He continues, “Parents should be very cautious about sports specialization at an early age and both athletic development and musculoskeletal health will be improved by variation in sports. This is particularly important at a young age to allow development of the various skills that result in a complete athlete, and to minimize excessive and repetitive same-motion stress and impact on developing bones and joints. In addition to variety, kids need a break from the organized routine for free play at various times throughout the year.”
Dr. Jane S. Chung, M.D., Sports Medicine Physician at Scottish Rite for Children serves as a non-operative pediatric sports medicine physician, treating sports injuries that do not require surgery. Her focus lies in treating pediatric and adolescent sports injuries, sport related concussion, overuse injuries, injuries pertaining to the female athlete, female athlete triad, dance medicine, and, like Dr. Wilson, she cautions specializing in sports early on. She shares, “I encourage sport diversification and participation in a variety of different sports and activities at a young age to decrease risk of overuse-related injuries and repetitive motion in the growing athlete’s bones and joints. For athletes specializing in single year-round sports, it is important to maintain a good balance from both a physical and psychological aspect, including optimizing hydration and nutrition, getting good quality sleep, including at least 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Parents should also be vigilant of signs of burnout in their kids and check frequently with their young athlete to make sure they are still enjoying and having fun in their sport, which is the most important thing.”
In addition to Dr. Chung’s and Dr. Wilson’s recommendations, preparation and prevention remain a team effort between young athletes and parents as they work to ensure the athlete’s physical safety. Many athletes often push through pain, but it’s important that athletes and parents talk regularly so the athlete understands that he/she can talk to the parent if they’re experiencing pain or if something just doesn’t feel right. Additionally, as part of continual efforts to keep athletes prepared and to prevent injury, parents can help athletes understand the importance of warming up properly as well as staying well-rested and eating a healthy well-balanced diet.
While sports-related injuries are common in young athletes, some are more common than others. Fortunately, most of the common injuries that affect young people are minor, have a relatively short recovery time and often include ankle sprains, knee pain, muscles strains, elbow pain and contusions, just to name a few. Most young athletes are fortunate and don’t sustain serious injury. But, for those athletes that do require specialized care, Dr. Wilson and his fellow physicians work hard to see athletes through those injuries. “We are fortunate to be challenged in our clinical and research goals to see a wide variety of sports injuries in athletes. We see high numbers of shoulder and elbow injuries in our throwing athletes and our gymnasts present with injuries to repetitive stress in the elbow, as well as other body parts. Our soccer, basketball and football players are high risk for ACL injuries. We have many patients who have bone and cartilage conditions in the developing parts of the knee that may be influenced by repetitive activities of sports and these often need prolonged or surgical treatments. We are challenged to continue research on these conditions to give best practice information to families regarding prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.”
In addition to staying in shape and working towards preventing injury, our young athletes now have even more of a challenge as they work to get back in shape and prepare for competitive play after they were likely forced to take time off due to COVID-19 and restrictions put in place from the pandemic. Dr. Chung says, “As with any return to sports following a prolonged period of rest and inactivity, it is important to take a slow and gradual approach to safely re-introduce the body back to activity.” In addition to getting their body back in shape and game-ready, playing safe and staying healthy has a whole new meaning as athletes work out and play while remaining leery of contracting COVID-19. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises athletes to stay home if they’re not feeling well or have a fever; wash hands and use hand sanitizer; bring labeled personal use equipment (water bottle, towel, tissues, face covering, etc.); avoid gathering in groups; wear a face covering in huddles, in the dugout or during team chats; avoid high-fives, sharing water bottles or food and tell their coach if they’re not feeling well during practice.
Regardless of whether your child is trying out a few sports for the first time or has been on the same select soccer team for five years, Dr. Wilson believes sports should be one thing and one thing only to those athletes … fun. He shares, “Sports should be fun, instill a lifelong habit of healthy activity and provide an enjoyable peer group for kids. While we are very fortunate in this region to have an opportunity to support our kids in goals for competitive sports achievement, parents should regularly perform a self and family assessment. They should ask themselves if they are meeting those goals of fun activities and creating a base for lifelong sports activity. If kids are spending the majority of their time in activities that are unlikely to be a part of their sports life in their adulthood, parents should make an effort to add lifelong sport activities, such as swimming, biking, tennis, golf, dance, etc. and always make sure the youth athlete and the family unit is truly having fun.” Like Dr. Wilson, Dr. Chung believes building strong physical foundations throughout life is vital. She explains, “The most important advice I have for parents of young athletes and children is the importance of building a strong foundation and instilling life-long habits and skills for their child to stay active and healthy for life. Exercise and physical activity should be part of their daily lives even beyond high school and into adulthood. The benefits of exercise from both a physical and emotional health are great, including decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and depression.”
Whether young athletes are seven years old starting select baseball, 12 years old working towards an Olympic gymnastics run, or 18 years old and headed into their senior year of stardom on the gridiron, athletes are resilient, but that learned resiliency doesn’t necessarily mean their bodies can or will keep up. Parents and young athletes alike must remain diligent to see that the athlete is not only working hard on the field or court but also working hard to maintain their bodies in a way that will allow them to perform well. We’re blessed here in Frisco with the availability and variety of different sports and the pride we have in that aspect of our city shows in the commitment levels of our young athletes to continue to produce greatness. While wins, championship runs, and trophies are often the pinnacle of the hard work put in by young athletes, maintaining lifelong physical and mental health begins at an early age with the help of parents whose goals lie in keeping their athletes safe and protected.