CHICAGO — The pandemic disrupted organized sports for tens of thousands of kids. More than a year without regular organized sports, some returning young athletes might find themselves more injury-prone, warn experts.
William Morkin, 13, pitches fast, averaging about 60 to 65 miles an hour. The 7th grader has been playing baseball for the last five years.
“I would have like four or five practices a week and like two games, and then sometimes, tournaments,” said Morkin. “So, I was playing a lot.”
But that all stopped once the pandemic hit, and every student-athlete was forced into a year-long virtual retirement.
“They got sent home,” said William’s father, Mike Morkin. “No school, no sports. He did school online for the rest of the year, played a lot of video games.”
“I basically, I was playing Xbox too much,” admitted William Morkin.
He wasn’t alone.
During the pandemic, time spent playing competitive sports declined by 59 percent, and physical practice hours were down 54 percent, though both saw increases in September 2020.
That’s when Morkin, back on the mound, got hurt.
“This one pitch, I felt something crack,” he recalled.
“He sustained an injury to the inside portion of his elbow, where he actually fractured a portion of his bone,” said Dr. Nikhil Verma, the director of sports medicine at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush and head team physician for the Chicago White Sox.
Dr. Verma says under-training in bursts can be just as bad as overtraining.
“Just because we can play a season doesn't mean that we should play a season,” said Dr. Verma. “If we don't have the correct amount of time to let them get acclimated to throwing.”
Some sports medicine experts recommend a minimum of six to eight weeks of training before returning to competition. That can be tough with the starts and stops that happen when a team has to shut down for COVID-19 cases.
Student-athletes have to listen to their bodies, something Morkin says he wishes he had done.
“I should have told my coach that I felt something, but I thought it wasn't that bad, so I just thought I could handle it,” he said.
The good news for Morkin: after surgery on his elbow and some recovery time, he’s back on the field. His father’s advice to other parents is to pay extra attention.
“The parents have to be involved because the kids are pent up. They can't wait to get out,” said Mike Morkin. “The last thing they knew, they were really great at whatever they did, and they want to do it again as great and as hard and as fast, and their bodies aren't ready for that.”