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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

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Disclaimer: This post is a small rant from me.  I normally don’t use this blog as a medium for that purpose. However, I feel so strongly about this topic that I decided to share my thoughts on it.

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I had an interesting email exchange with a health care practitioner (HCP) this past week.  She had some questions about one of my products and asked specifically if I had done a clinical trial comparing my treatment method to leading national PT organizations.  My answer was no.

I explained to her I am not a researcher, nor do I have the time (or money for that matter) for such things as I am in the trenches every day treating patients and training athletes.  Her response was very interesting.  According to her I was defensive, and she suggested I check out a DPT program so I could in essence become a better clinician.

Hmmm………  Suffice it to say I completely disagree with her on this one.  I graduated from PT school at the Ohio State University in 1996.  Their program was very well respected at the time (over 500 applied and they took 60 in my class) and two of my professors (Lynn Colby and Carolyn Kisner) wrote the text on Therapeutic Exercise that is still used in many curriculums today.  On top of that, I worked at the top outpatient ortho clinic in the city as an aide my junior and senior year in college.

At the time of my admission, OSU only offered a B.S. degree, so I never had a choice for more at that point.  The university quickly adopted a Master’s program shortly after I finished and later became one of the first institutions to offer the full DPT program.

Upon graduation, I went to work at the same top ortho clinic and spent 5 years working side-by-side with some of the brightest PT’s and next door to what was considered by many to be the best surgical group in town.  I saw surgeries, sat in on MD appointments with my patients, participated in journal clubs and worked at a feverish pace.  Let’s just say I saw lots of patients and gained what felt like a fellowship experience for 5 more years.

Now, as I reflect upon this email from said HCP, I can honestly say that I believe experience and results matter more than just those three letters behind a name.  That is in no way meant as a slam or any disrespect to the DPTs out there, clinical research trials or the doctorate degree itself.  Students today have no choice but to take the DPT route.  To be honest, they really only have (1) more year of structured curriculum than I had in my program.  They leave school with a lot more debt, and afterward they still have no clinical (real world) experience when they first start out.  You simply can’t buy experience in school.


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So, I read a very interesting article yesterday in the local paper here, The Columbus Dispatch.  The title was “Children May Be Vulnerable in $5 Billion Youth-Sports Industry.”

I have a vested interest in this discussion for two reasons:

  1. I profit directly from youth sports training in my business
  2. My two boys participate in youth sports

Consider some stats from this article:

  • Youth sports has more than 6x the athletes than high schools
  • 99% of high school coaches have also coached a youth team
  • 90% of HS athletes played youth sports
  • 50% began playing between 6 and 9
  • 31% of athletes paid more then $1500/year to play
  • 26% of those hurt while playing youth sports said their injury affected their ability to play any sports
  • 20% say their parents pressured them to play youth sports

Perhaps the final bullet point may be the most disturbing, right?  Who wants pressured?  Well, we all know parents want the best for their kids, or so they should.  Sometimes, they simply push too hard as they may want their child to get an elusive scholarship, or perhaps they are trying to live vicariously through the child. 

While I am a firm believer in giving kids every opportunity to excel, there needs to be a healthy balance and perspective too.  Kids at age 5 don’t need to be doing sport specific training.  I don’t think elementary age kids need to be playing tackle football either.  Why not work on coordination, cutting safely and general movement skills?  The biggest thing I hate to see is specialization at an early age.

Kids should play multiple sports and work on multilateral sport development and not unilateral sports that often lead to overuse and premature injuries.  Specializing in a sport is something to be considered during the high school years and beyond. 

Back to the article.  Consider this: one woman spent $30,000 to send her teenage son to IMG in Florida to train 6 days per week for 6 months.  Another parent would drive through the night back to the Pittsburgh from Florida so his son could pitch on an elite team there on the weekend and be back in time for school for 3 straight months in the winter.  Is this crazy or what? 

I do not want to sound too judgmental, but at what emotional, psychological and physical cost do we draw the line?  One 11 year old club soccer player gave the sport up because her coach screamed at her so much.  Now she runs.  Seriously?  Coaches are driving youth athletes away and toward burnout daily due to elitism and ultra competitive coaching tactics/behaviors.

Perhaps we should be ashamed of ourselves?  I try hard not to be a part of this.  I will openly turn away sessions if I feel the athlete has too much other stuff going on.  I did this just the other day as one mother called and said her son was playing soccer and running cross country.  She mentioned he had some mild knee soreness.  I know why.

I told her training with us was not a good option right now and that he should come back in the winter when he was not playing a sport.  After talking, she thought this made perfect sense.  She was not a pushy parent and truly understood that more is often not really better (refreshing).

One of my own athletes who has worked with me since age 10 recently had to give up the sport of soccer.  She suffered multiple concussions, and now at age 16 is dealing with recurrent memory issues, medications and altered mood states.  Wow!  Is that the norm?  No, but we must consider she plays soccer year-round and has since an early age.  Her situation is not one in which the parents or coaches share any blame.  The concussions are just an unfortunate risk in soccer.

However, as athletes play more competitively at younger ages, we may very well see more injuries and a higher severity as well since the exposure risk increases.  It is certainly worth looking at in the years to come.  Is all the training, extra practice and grueling competition really detrimental long term?  It may be hard to say for sure, but if you coach, train athletes or are a parent, I beg you to consider the overall maturation and life cycle of your children as it relates ot sport.

Let them have fun and choose what they want to do.  Let them be free to play and don’t look down on them if they walk away from your sport or chosen activity.  Don’t be in a hurry to make them the next best (fill in the blank).   Let’s all work together to make youth sports fun, safe and enjoyable again.   

Oh yeah, and let’s make sportsmanship a priority again.  One referee in the article was quoted as saying, “The parents are ruder.  They don’t care about sportsmanship or if they are hurting a kid.  They just argue.”  While coaching my son in flag football this past Spring, one parent on an opposing team was trash talking.  I mean really inappropriate stuff too.  I never agree with this kind of  behavior, but I think that at ages 4 and 5 it is utterly ridiculous.  I will save that rant for another day.  LOL 

In the meantime, stand with me and be protectors of our youth athletes by using sound judgment, staying current on research, and listening to our kids as they grow.

Some of you may know the IYCA (International Youth Conditioning Association) and some of you may not.  It has been around for a few years, but is rapidly growing and aiming to revolutionize the youth fitness industry.  Founder, Brian Grasso, is pictured below addressing the crowd at the Speed Clinic I attended today.

2009 IYCA Summit

2009 IYCA Summit

As a youth training expert myself, I was eager to see the IYCA up close and gain a better understanding about its mission, leaders and members.  I left convinced Brian Grasso is just as intelligent and passionate as he always comes across in his newlsetters.  His vision is clear and the IYCA members at the summit all seeemed committed to one goal - raising the bar and providing the BEST training possible to our youth.  No egos - just a ground army of coaches looking to learn from one another and change the way youth training is delivered.

I also came away pleased to know that people like Brian Grasso and Lee Taft approach training in much the same way I do.  What exactly do I mean by this?  Here are just a few examples:

  1. High speed treadmills are not the best tools to improve speed
  2. Deceleration is often overlooked and one of the most critical phases of training we must teach our young athletes to reduce injury and increase performance
  3. Leading our children with passion and positive energy is a must
  4. Teaching our athletes and parents the “why” behind exercise selection does matter
  5. Less is really more in many cases and training should be FUN

These are just a few of the concepts that resonated with me over the weekend.  I was so impressed with the mission and leadership of the IYCA, I became a member myself.  I feel confident that this organization will help train and develop great youth fitness specialists, while making the lives of our young people better for years to come.  As a physical therapist and seasoned coach myself, I am a tough critic.  But today, I salute the IYCA and its mission.  I look forward to being a part of the organization and working with them to continue providing the very best in youth athlete training.

My video blogs will return this week as I continue to give you valuable info on shoulder training - do’s and don’ts to ensure you are training safely and effectively in the gym.  If there are certain questions you have, please let me know.