Sporting Balance for Children

How do we achieve sporting balance for our children?

We all want children to grow up healthily.  As well as keeping our children physically fit, sports also have a range of other benefits such as teaching them team work, perseverance, honesty, integrity and respect for authority.

However, there has been a 60% surge in sports related injuries to kids aged 10-14 years since 2008, double the increase of any other age group (ACC data) and we find this a little worrying!Physio Wanaka

So what is too much?

It is important that the amount of organised sport per week in both training and competition shouldn’t exceed the childs age (one hour for every year)

So if your child is 13, he/she shouldn’t do more than 13 hours of organised sport a week.  This includes sports at school.

What are the risks?

Exposing kids to higher intensity and higher volumes of training at an earlier age increases the risk of overuse and fatigue related injuries.

It needs to be remembered that kids aren’t high performance athletes.  They are adolescents with immature musculoskeletal systems.


Children should do 60 mins of mod- vigorous exercise daily.  It doesn’t have to be formal sport instead it can be free play like riding bike, going to the skatepark, jumping on the trampoline etc.  It is really important to have a balance between structured training, competition and play, and free play.

Kids that maintain a broader range of physical activities and don’t push too hard, too soon are more likely to succeed in their chosen sport.  We need to keep the child enjoying the sport, developing their skills and staying healthy.

There is no evidence that starting younger at sport creates a better adult athlete.  A more diverse sporting approach can mean fewer overuse injuries, less chance of burnout and a higher chance of staying in that sport for life.  These kids develop transferable skills, greater creativity and better decision making capabilities.  We need to find the sweet spot for each kid so they can train and play without getting injured and still have fun!

Five ways to help your kids find sporting balance

  1. Do the numbers – the number of hours per week of structured sports training and competition should be less than their age, eg less than 10 hours per week for a 10-year-old.  There is increased risk of overuse injuries if children spend more time in organised sport than their age
  2. Encourage variety – have them try lots of different sports and playing positions. This helps build transferable skills and keeps them engaged and enthusiastic. Avoid training in a single sport for more than eight months per year.  Early specialisation before 12-14 years increases risk of overuse injuries and might not be helpful if your child wants to succeed in that sport.
  3. Play for enjoyment – are your kids smiling? Take the focus off winning and ‘success’, instead focus on their development and help grow your kid’s love of sport and activity. The real power of physical activity is the positive mental effect.
  4. Free play – allow kids time to just be kids and play. They develop many skills by simply playing with their mates, which can also help them in their sport .
  5. Allow time for rest, recovery and sleep – sometimes doing nothing is doing something. Parents need to be empowered.  This is your kid, you need to talk to the coach about your child’s training load if you and/or your child is unhappy with it. Parents are the ones who take their children to practice.  They are the only person who knows exactly how much physical activity their child is doing.

Exercise is great for kids.

  • Don’t forget the role of free play, as it is varied and dynamic
  • Avoid early specialisation
  • Take extra care around the time of rapid limb growth 11.5 years for girls and 13.5 years for boys.  This is a risky time when overuse injuries can happen more easily
  • Seek help from health professionals if you have concerns and your child is complaining of pain.  It is best to seek advice from a health professional such as a physiotherapist or doctor if your child is complaining of pain as they can diagnose the condition your child has and how best to treat it.
  • Activity modification and load management is really important for any overuse injury such as knee pain and heel pain.
  • Finding that ‘sweet spot’ is vital!

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Written by Paula Shortall

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