Work Samples

For some youngsters, injuries are psychological


August 5, 2013

Bergen County pediatric orthopedist David Konigsberg often acts not only as an orthopedist, but also as detective and psychologist.

A 7-year-old gymnast complains of wrist pain too severe to continue but the physical examination shows no cause for that level of discomfort. She is not seriously hurt — she just wants out. She's not alone.

"They don't want to tell their parents they don't want to play, they just really want to be injured so they don't have to play anymore," Konigsberg said. "We see that all the time.

It's not just gymnastics, of course. Konigsberg has had similar scenarios play out with young athletes in all sports.

"Think about it — their parents have been bringing them to pitching lessons three times a week and batting lessons. Frankly it's the parents' team, it's not the kids' team," said Konigsberg, who coaches his twin 10-year-old sons. "The most graceful way out of it for the kids sometimes is to say, 'I'm hurting.' "

Burnout is another danger when kids are playing one sport, year-round, with the pressures that come with that focus and intensity from a young age.

John McCarthy, co-founder of the Yogi Berra Museum's Coaching Institute, runs seminars for coaches, parents and student athletes, and teaches a coaching class at Montclair State University. He said kids quit organized sports for many different reasons and he often sees burnout used as the excuse when it is really something else.

"If a kid has a high success level, they don't usually get burned out," McCarthy said. "If they are not able to measure up, they say they're not interested."

Sometimes, the child can see the reality that the parent is blind to.

"Part of it can also be, 'I'm not getting where they want me to go and I get it and they don't,' " said McCarthy, who added the athlete may also not want to make the necessary effort and time commitment to meet their parents' goals.

Garret Teel, owner and coach at Teels baseball and softball training center in Wyckoff and Closter, said he does see baseball players who have earned a collegiate roster spot only to walk away.

"I've watched so many parents push, push, push that kids finally get to school, they're away from their mom and dad, and they're playing baseball and they come back and say, 'I quit baseball,' " Teel said. "It has to come from the kid, not the parent."