"No pain, no gain." "It's only a sprain." "Walk it off." "Make it hurt." In the world of sports, athletes are surrounded by outdated clichés like these that supposedly reflect the "norm" for playing with pain. It was thought for quite some time, and even today, that athletes are expected to play through pain. It's important for anyone who works with, or coaches, young athletes to understand pain and its relationship to adolescents and sports. But how do we know how much is too much? When is an injury serious?
Many adults relate to pain by drawing on their own personal experiences. Although it's not desirable, playing with pain is common in adult sports. However, adults have the benefit of mature musculoskeletal and physiological systems and probably have previous experiences with pain to help them make the right choice. Not only can adults discriminate types and degree of pain, they have more accessibility to professionals trained to assist them (for example young athletes may not understand or be able to distinguish pain as sharp or dull when asked to describe the pain).
Children in pain, however, should always cause more concern because of the potentially irreversible damage that can occur if their body's "early warning device" is ignored. Young athletes should be encouraged to report and monitor their pain in terms of intensity and duration, therefore building a foundation of experiences in which to compare future injuries.
We know that a child's performance can change when an audience is present. The presence of peers or family member is likely to influence a youth's reaction to pain, possibly pushing the athlete too far. Therefore, pain is best managed in a calm, individual adult-to-athlete manner so that the athlete's reaction is not influenced by his/her peers (e.g. not wanting to appear a "sissy") or distracted by the presumed importance of the situation. This calm individual's contact will ensure the most accurate report and assessment of pain.
Athletes should understand that if they are injured, their performance will be affected and that they may be doing themselves and the team a disservice by continuing to try to play. But some athletes, with the support of their coaches, feel they are so superior that they can compete with an injury that limits them to half of their ability. If this is the case, could the coach and the team afford to lose this athlete for future contests?
Situations like these arise daily, and quick, responsible decisions need to be made on the spot. I would be ideal if this decision could be made by a trained professional experience with evaluating injuries and working with evaluating injuries and working with athletes. This is often not feasible. Coaches or those who direct youth sports should have specific guidelines in mind to deal with these situation!