Injuries and Self-Image in Youth Sports

How Injuries Can Affect Self-Image

Injuries and lack of rest are among the many confidence killers in youth sports, says Dr. Shawn Worthy, Metropolitan State University of Denver professor and clinical psychologist who specializes in sports and adolescent psychology.

They can prompt kids to feel burned out and to quit altogether.

“My daughter was a gymnast first and actually injured out of gymnastics at age 11. When young people are injured, they can have real issues with it, because of a lot of time they have their entire self-image tied to their athletic performance,” he says.

When your sports kids’ whole self-image is tied to athletic performance, they often deal with substantial psychological consequences and lowered confidence if they under perform, burnout, or get injured, he says.

That’s why it’s critical to help sports kids develop interests outside of sports, he says.

Here at Kids’ Sports Psychology, we agree…

It’s important for kids to separate their self-worth from their performance and it’s critical for parents to remind kids that their self-image should not be tied to how well they perform.

“Whenever people ask me how to talk to kids about this, the answer is always, ‘It depends on how old they are,'” says Worthy. “But in general, you want to praise them for other things, other activities and achievements in their life.”

In addition, Worthy stresses the need for sports kids to get the rest necessary to recuperate fully.

“We have these 12- to 14-year-olds who have overuse injuries because they are specializing and making these movements all the time,” he says.

In part because kids do develop over-use injuries, Worthy doesn’t think kids should play or perform year-round.

“Young people need an off period, a month or two months preferably, where the kid doesn’t need to play a sport.”

“Too often, kids play all year round, and they need the rest to destress from the competition. I knew a young tennis player who went to play at Stanford and after a year he just completely burned out.”

However, parents can prevent such burnout by stepping in and giving kids some perspective about what may happen if they play year-round, he says.

“There are some situations where parents have to lead. My role as a parent is to see future things that my child can’t see. So we have to step up sometimes and ask our kids, ‘Is it time for a rest?”

“Is it time you don’t do this anymore?’ As parents, we have to sometimes… make some difficult decision for our children’s health, and I think sometimes parents abdicate that responsibility.”

You can listen to Worthy’s interview here:

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