Recently I have come in contact with a very interesting man. His name is Klas Östberg.
He is one of Sweden’s most experienced sports doctors/physicians. He has worked for the Swedish Olympic team at several Olympic Games and also served as national team physician for the Swedish biathletes for many years. He has been involved with many athletes who have passed through the eye of the needle that is elite development. Some have become the fastest, the best, stood on the shoulders of giants and reached the pinnacle within their sport.
Klas Östberg is passionate about children’s sports. For him it must be carried out from a child’s perspective.
Here we get a professional sports physicians perspective:
As a sports physician Klas regularly deals with athletes that not only have normal sports related injuries, but also those with infections, overtraining, asthma, eating disorders and depression. In recent years he has been looking at and evaluating the situation on his own doorstep. He has been studying the process from child to elite athlete. He sees a society where children’s sport is being compromised by the competitive business of sports (adult world), where elite selection begins earlier and earlier as “strategy and competitive landscapes drive a “race to the bottom” despite science truths (Ross Tucker). We can read all the latest research papers and journals but nothing gives more valuable information and knowledge about children in sport than the one on one day to day experience.
Klas Östberg increasingly meets these children as patients.
His opinion is very clear. Despite all these hard elite programs they are in general done with little or no medical supervision. Children are not small adults. Klas says -“I am regularly dealing with these children from elite talent programs as patients. Many have bone/skeletal disorders that not even Swedish child orthopedists have seen before. On an increasingly more frequent basis I am meeting children with possible life-long injuries. The problem often arises when children are trained as adults and continue to train without any diagnosis. Not only can this lead to a serious injury it can also cause psychological problems. The question is should we allow our children to train in these hard driven sports elite programs and have the same medical support as if it were some spontaneous game of street football? Another question is, how many of these sporting organisations are not following the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The misguided effort to win medals often means that we miss out and neglect what sport can give to children and our society when it comes to pleasure, fun, excercise and an interest for life. For when you remove a 9 year old girl from the team, push the 10 year old ice hockey player too hard you also remove much of what is great about sport.
What happens to the 98% who do not reach elite level? Where do they go? Is it not interesting to investigate?
What worries Klas is that these early elite programs are merely betting on talent and it has no scientific basis. It does not give more medals but just more marginalised children.
We know how much fun sport can be. Our goals should be to have a broader participation in sport, where as many as possible will continue to play as long as possible. Therefore it is vital that we have an open discussion.
“I have been responsible for Swedish Olympic Committee (SOK) top athletes for many years, all have been active in sport and specialised first at 15-20 years of age. What lessons can we draw from that?” Klas Östberg