Every couple of months, a parent will either email me an article about a young athlete dying (like this WashingtonPost article) or chat with me about practices being too difficult for their child.
Parents are concern about how to handle their children complaining about rigorous training and what should the messaging be to young athletes about how hard to train.
My typical response often goes like this….
It's always unfortunate when a child dies and I extend my condolences to the family.
Please note that in the majority of cases when an athlete dies after a workout or game it is due to an underlying health issue that was dormant until that moment (i.e. A hole in the heart, a tumor in the lungs, etc). Here’s an article from the Mayo Clinic that discusses the issue Mayo Clinic article
To address the general concerns about young athletes pushing through tough or uncomfortable training. The process of getting better (stronger, faster, building longer endurance, mastering a skill, etc) will require young athletes to push through their current level of comfort.
This doesn't mean that these young players should be in constant pain before, during and after the training session. If they are in constant pain, they should see a physician immediately.
Make sure they get a medical physical and specifically ask them to check for any cardiac or neurological abnormalities. A history of abnormalities in family members could also be an indicator of potential abnormalities. The findings from the medical examinations should help inform all parties involved about the next steps for the young athlete.
If no abnormalities are found from the medical exams and testing, then the issue could be developing mental toughness in the young athlete. This is not as easy as it seems. It requires some tough love from parents. This also requires that the young athlete understands that in the process of getting better they will have to push themselves in ways that they haven’t done in the past.
This last piece is extremely important, regardless of the sport, all sports should have a balance training session mix where some sessions are easy and some sessions are intense. Young athletes should be provided ample opportunities to rest during and in between practice sessions.