The Yin and Yang of Youth Sports

Most athletes usually end their career before age 30 due to injuries and burnout. (Photo by A. J. Guel)

Most athletes usually end their career before age 30 due to injuries and burnout. (Photo by A. J. Guel)

How many tennis players, gymnasts, and football players do you often see who are still performing? Very few. A lot of these athletes tend to burn out due to excessive training and injuries, especially those who have not yet started middle school.

Despite advanced knowledge in sports medicine, kinesiology, and coaching technqiues, youth sports injuries that were reported had increased five times from 2000 to 2009, according to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. In a review that was published in the July 2010 issue of “Sports Health,” among the two million high school injuries that would occur annually, 500,000 of them would warrant doctor visits and 30,000 of them would include hospitalizations. Of the severe injuries, 54% will involve the knee, 11% the hand, and 7% the shoulder.

Overuse of any joint through repetitive motion increases young athletes’ risks of getting acute and chronic injuries. By incorporating a more mindful and balanced approach to youth sports, movement, and recovery, there can be a much reduced risk of injury.

Strong and Sharp Beyond 60

(Magnificent Butcher, 1979)

If you’re an old-school, kung fu film fan — particularly those from the Shaw Brothers and early Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung films — you may recall that most of the heroes’ teachers are usually older guys with a long gray beard who appear deceptively weak and clumsy, yet they can still lay a can of whoop-ass against ten or more guys half their age.

Most professional athletes usually retire in their early thirties or younger when injuries, pain, and other disorders begin to influence their performance. However, there are many well-known martial art teachers who continue to teach, refine, and condition their skills well beyond their 60s. These include aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), wing chun Grandmasters Ip Man (1893-1972) and his son Ip Chun (1924-present), Choy Lay Fut founder Chan Heung (1806-1875), and Hung kuen master Chan Hon Chung (1909-1991).

Most of these styles tend to balance internal strength conditioning with external strength, which refers to breathing, balance, reflexes and awareness (internal) and stamina, raw strength, power, and speed external.

Energy Imbalance

The concept of Yin and Yang are part of the foundations to understanding and practicing Chinese kung fu, which may be carried over to other martial arts. Imagine that Yin and Yang are the opposite charges like a battery that constantly revolve around each other like a dance couple with neither trying to dominate the other. Yin energy is passive or receptive, while Yang energy is proactive and assertive. From a Chinese medicine perspective, any excessive imbalance between Yin and Yang may lead to various health problems. Too much Yang can lead to excessive wear-and-tear of joints, mental burnout, musculoskeletal diseases, and exhaustion. Likewise, too little Yang can make you feel weak, cold, slow, and lethargic.

According to Sifu Frank Du of Three Treasures Cultural Arts Society in San Diego, CA, “the movements in kung fu and tai chi purposely alternate between Yin and Yang so that your body is constantly feeling the contrast. It’s this contrast that strengthens, stretches and empowers.”

“Yin” exercises can help athletes recover better and reduce the risk of injuries and burnouts. (Courtesy of Three Treasures Cultural Arts Society)

“It’s not uncommon to see kung fu and tai chi practitioners maintain their skill level well into their 50’s, 60’s and beyond. On the other hand, Yang activities that lack Yin, like boxing or football, leave their practitioners washed up at a young age. You rarely see gymnasts competing at a high level beyond their teenage years.”

We don’t use cookie-cutter workouts or WOD in our practice. Instead, we listen to our young clients before we implement a workout program for them, which often changes and evolves as their body and mind change.

If young athletics learn to create a better balance between their sports (Yang) with recovery (Yin), then we may be able to significantly reduce the number of injuries and increase the joy and passion that young athlete find in their favorite sport.


Sports Health: STOP Sports Injuries

Preserving the Future of Sport: From Prevention to Treatment of Youth Overuse Sports Injuries; AOSSM 2009 Annual Meeting Pre-Conference Program; Keystone, Colorado

Bleacher Report: The Best Athletes Who Retired Way Too Soon


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