Spring weather provides us the opportunity to get outside, enjoy the outdoors and longer days. Spring is also considered the ‘off season’ for a large number of organized youth sports. Engaging in activity during the off season is a popular way for young athletes to try to gain an edge for the next athletic season. However, participating in sport year round does not benefit the young athlete as much as previously thought. Here are a few thoughts on how to work smarter, not harder, during the off season to set up a young athlete to be active for life.

Skills camps and spring/summer leagues are developed with the best of intentions and aim to make young athletes better at their sport. However, to avoid burnout and overuse injuries, young athletes should play at least 2-3 different sports per year as well as have time for unstructured physical activity instead of committing to one organized sport year round.

A research study conducted by Vicki Harber from the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta called “Female athletes injured more than male athletes” has shown a higher prevalence of injury among female athletes. This can be attributed to the fact that many training programs developed for female athletes are built on research using young male adults and don’t take the intrinsic biological difference between sexes into account.

Another priority of the off season should be recovery. Recovery time is critical for growth and development. The off season is the perfect time for young athletes to get more sleep, and better quality sleep without having the demands of their in-season routine (traveling, early morning practices, late night homework after practice).

Time off not only helps young athletes grow and develop, but can also renew the excitement associated with their main sport. Let them have a chance to ‘miss’ their sport and encourage them to engage in other activities; unstructured sport and play is one of the best ways to further develop movement skills in young athletes.

The key to a successful offseason for young athletes is variety in activity, a mental and physical break from their main sport and the freedom to engage in other activities where they can learn movement skills in lower pressure situations and work on skills not emphasized during their regular season.

Vicki Harber in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta