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Thursday, 24 October 2019

Sports for children: Are we crossing the line?

Parents increasingly push their children to do vigorous physical fitness hoping to create sports 'starlets', but are we harming their health rather than doing them good?

Ingy Deif, Thursday 10 May 2012
sports injuries
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Views: 1660

Heba-El Sherif, a 34-year-old housewife and mother of 10-year-old twins, has made to controversial decision to go against the practice of most 21st century mums: she has refused to subject her children to sports training.

"Although we played sports on regular basis, our parents never forced sports into our daily routine like we do nowadays. Ironically we have been healthy, happy and less stressed," admits El-Sherif to Ahram Online.

Heba is clearly an exception. Many mothers feel obliged to enrol her children in at least one kind of sport class from a very early age. When we put into consideration the strain on the muscles and the injuries that can occur, it raises the question whether parents are in fact crossing the line.

The psychological burden

From his office in Maadi district of Cairo, sports medicine consultant Doctor Mostafa El-Moneiery, who has consulted many major Egyptian football teams, emphasises the psychological burden we unintentionally put on our little ones, when we push them to train.

The issue, he explains, is one that usually only affects the middle and upper classes, as they can pay for sports equipment, kit and centre memberships.

"Unfortunately this is an angle that nobody talks about," El-Moneiery explained to Ahram Online, "the more parents pay for training, the higher their expectations become, putting extra pressure on the children to become better and on the coaches and trainers to achieve more."

It is as if, he says, there is an obligation to turn the child into an "'athletic hero" as soon as possible without taking into account the negative effects this might have on the child in question.

"That’s why throughout my work I frequently come across children and adults suffering from aches and illnesses that stem from psychological pressure,"  El-Moneiery said.

The psychologically negative effects normally manifest themselves in the form of physical one. He cited one example where a professional football player from a well-known league team came to him complaining of aches and diarrhoea, only to discover his symptoms were due to the mental and emotional strain before the match.   

"If an adult can't stand this kind this kind of stress, can you imagine what impact this has on a child or a teenager?" El-Moneiery asked.

Eventually the pressure from parents or, in some cases, the greed of the coaches who increase training sessions to earn more money, results in overtraining and fatigue.

El- Moneiery urged parents to practise moderation.

"I always remember what my father told me regarding sports: not only does playing a sport help us with understanding discipline, group work and good spirits, but that also a sport match mimics real life," he added.

Through team sports children can learn vital life lessons, El-Moneiery explained, such as dealing with defeat, acknowledging that losing is part of the game and learning to try harder next time, all of which occur when we face failures in life.

How soon is too soon? 

Over the last ten years, El-Moneiery has seen an increasing number of parents pushing their children to start learning sports, such as gymnastics, swimming, tennis, and squash, at a young age.

However, he asserts that a lot of the intense training that children are subjected is not only damaging but, in many cases, pointless.  It is only beneficial for boys to train seriously when they reach puberty, as muscle growth is linked to the testosterone hormone. For girls, the training process can begin only one or two years prior to menarche.  

"Other than that we recommend  training that establishes technique and style rather than vigorous exercise that focuses on power," Dr El-Moneirey concluded, "In other words, if you want your child to start early, don’t push hard or pressure him, focus on style not on building muscle, as this should logically come later."

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