A Cautionary Tale About Sports and Children

The Los Angeles Times has published a blockbuster story about what happens when a parent pushes a child too far in the pursuit of sports glory. The tale is a harrowing account of a father’s pride, and how those expectations led one very young athlete to push his body past the point of no return, and into a dangerous zone:

His son Aidan has been in almost constant pain for several years after being diagnosed with a disease partially caused by being pushed to play sports through injury and affliction. At one point he thought about suicide. Today he feels lucky if he can physically show up for high school baseball practice.

This is an extreme example, of course. But it is instructive as a portrait of our influence over young people, and how powerful the pressure can be from a parent to overcome pain and disappointment in search of a win:

Aidan eventually played three sports, all with his father on the sidelines or in the stands, which meant they could spend eight hours a day together on various fields throughout the Southland while Rebecca and Cullen’s other son Beckett, now 14, stayed home. Aidan was becoming a neighborhood star, but the cost was slowly growing.

Alas, a terrifying diagnosis was just around the corner.

By the spring of his junior year, he was finally diagnosed with a neurological disorder called Central Pain Syndrome, a condition in which damage to the central nervous system can cause constant pain. Doctors told Cullen that one of the causes may have been that Aidan constantly played hurt.

As a pediatric orthopedist, I have seen several variations on this story over the years. The notion that toughness or grit should supercede the body’s own pain response is a dangerous one, and it can claim the athletic careers of very young people, very quickly.

If you want better advice about how to cycle through activities, get rest, and let your kids be kids – even the high-achieving ones – please don’t hesitate to contact sports medicine expert Dr. William Holland today.

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