As a coach for over 40 years, I have seen many changes. The problem is fueled a few ways-Governing bodies, parents, coaches, and kids with passion for their sport.
Sometimes the child LOVES the sport and does not know when to modify training. They often hide aches and pains from coaches and parents due to fear or so they can keep training. It is up to adults who know the consequences of overtraining and to modify the training for the child who is injured.
A big part of the problem is also that governing bodies of sports such as USA Gymnastics. USAG encourages very young children, starting at age 5. (My opinion, it is a way too young and USAG has likely been motivated by money in membership fees.) By the time some children are only 8, they are dealing with overuse injuries.
As an NSCA-CSCS, I have had to fix many injured gymnasts in the past decade. Some coaches and parents choose to treat these 5 years old children like pro athletes. They are children and many adults forget that with their eyes on that college scholarship. It takes many years to develop strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, an appreciation for safety, and maturity. It should be a gradual process. A child should not be training like a pro athlete at such a young age.
I have met many parents who are overboard, insisting their children train at home as well as the 25+ hours in the gym. I have had to remind a parent that an 8 year old that she should not be training at home on top of her 25+ hour schedule. A few years ago I have several parents of five year olds ask for private training the week before their first competition. I said no to all of them. I’ve had parents discount children’s aches, pains, and fatigue and have seen those kids end up in surgery. There is only so much a coach can do when a parent insists their child train at home or pulls a child from a coach who refuses to have a child reduce training to heal from injury.
Not every coach is aware of injury prevention or rehab. They have spent years mastering the sport, how to teach skills and create routines. Some coaches do not do the math when it comes to training. For example, if a gymnast has 5 jumps in her beam routine and you ask her to do 10 routines a day, that is 50 jumps per day on the hardest surface in the gym. Compare that to a routine with 3 jumps times ten routines to equal 30 jumps per day. That is a difference of 20 jumps in one day. The difference becomes really significant over time. In one week that is 250 jumps vs 150. Over one month that is 100 jumps compared to 600 jumps, a difference of 400 jumps. Coaches should really do the math and learn the breaking point (when gymnasts start to feel aches, pains, fatigue) so they can keep the number just under that breaking point. You can be demanding without overtraining and produce healthy, strong, and successful gymnasts.
Need help with reducing injuries? There are very few high-level gymnastics coaches who also have the CSCS. It is not an easy-fitness certification. It is based on sports science. A college degree is required to sit for the exam, you are given 6 months to study, it covers exercise prescription for competitive athletes, exercise technique, injuries, injury prevention, nutrition, and more. Not everyone passes the first time. And in order to keep the certification, we must continue education by attending events, webinars, self-study, doing presentations, and writing.
Need help in your gym? Gymnastics Consultant and Strength Coach