While being a kid is hard, being a competitive young female athlete can be even more challenging. On top of regular schoolwork, many young athletes train for 25-30 hours per week; whether they realize it or not, this can dramatically affect their health. So what can these kids do to stay healthy and competitive? And how can their parents support them through it all?
A young developing body coupled with intense physical activity can be a recipe for burnout and injuries if not handled well by parents and the athlete themselves. But with the right support system, these young athletes can thrive in their sport and maintain a healthy lifestyle. We work with many young clients at EW Motion Therapy, and have for years. From gymnasts to cross-country runners, we help them (and their parents) develop a plan to keep them healthy, feeling good, and performing well. Even if you decide not to work with us, we still want to discuss some of the problems young athletes might face.
This article discusses common health problems among young female athletes, how these issues can affect their performance, and what they and their parents can do to help. With this information, they can return to their gym, track, field, or court and continue to thrive.
What health problems can young female athletes experience?
For young female athletes, specifically gymnasts and cheerleaders, there are a few different issues that could manifest throughout their careers. Due to excess stress on bones and growth plates, bone age may be 1-2 years less than their chronological age. This can lead to a shorter, leaner overall stature, which may help their ability to perform in their sport as they advance but may cause delayed growth.
Additionally, many active girls experience puberty delays due to a shortage of the hormones responsible for growth and development. This can be influenced by their level of activity but also their diet. A young female athlete’s diet may be considered normal by most standards, but it is often insufficient for maintaining their activity level. Unfortunately, eating disorders are also prevalent in this community, along with body image issues, and the added pressure of being lean to compete does not help the situation.
What can young female athletes do to stay healthy?
Young female athletes have to take care of themselves outside of practice to maintain their health and keep their body performing at the level it needs to. The easiest ways to do this are by getting enough sleep and taking in enough calories to replace what they burn. Sleep is the body’s great healer, reducing inflammation and stress, and implementing good sleep habits early can help kids recharge as they advance. Putting away electronics at least an hour before bed and trying breathing exercises like meditation are great places to start.
Kids need to get enough nutrients since their bodies are constantly growing and developing, especially for kids who burn many calories during practice. A balanced diet of fruits and vegetables with plenty of lean protein is great for growing kids. Seeking professional advice can be a great option, and a nutritionist in your area can help develop a customized plan for their needs.
What can parents do to help?
Now you know more about health issues young female athletes can face and some ways to ensure they can maintain their active lifestyle. The best thing parents can do for their kids is to be there for them and have their best interest at heart - there are plenty of mental health problems kids can experience while competing, and they need their parents to be supportive. Rest in between practices and a robust support system can help active, competitive girls go farther than they ever thought possible.
Young girls are hard enough on themselves, but when they are involved in a demanding sport outside of their typical responsibilities, giving them the tools they need to rest and continue to perform well is vital. By getting proper nutrition and plenty of rest, kids can keep up with the calories they burn and continue to grow strong and healthy. We emphasize this with our young clients at EW Motion Therapy and try to provide resources for both kids and parents to live a healthy lifestyle. If you or your child is interested in working with us, answer the questions in our Program Match Tool to see which program best fits your needs.