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A Look into a Gap Year for Athletes from The Medical Perspective

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The gap year consists of age requirements that young athletes have to reach to be eligible to participate. The gap year rule has been implemented in order to physically and psychologically prepare the young athletes for major league sports. Various major sporting leagues have age requirements. Physical injury has the chance of leading to much more.

One intention of the gap year is to help reduce the chance of injury, students-athletes may experience more than just physical effects an injury. These athletes may experience psychological trauma as well. Injuries, while preferably avoidable are often a part of sport participation. While most injuries can be managed with little to no impact in daily life and athletic activity, some impose a substantial physical and mental burden. For some student-athletes, the psychological response to injury can trigger or exert serious mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, disordered eating, and substance use or abuse. When a student-athlete is injured, there tends to be an emotional reaction that includes processing the medical information about the injury provided by the medical team, as well as coping emotionally with the injury. How student-athletes respond to injury may be unique to that individual, and there is no predictable sequence or reaction. The response to injury is present from the time immediately after the injury through to the post-injury phase and then rehabilitation and then ultimately to the return to activity. For most injuries, the student-athlete is able to return to pre-injury levels of activity. In more serious cases, a student athlete’s playing career may be endangered, and the health care provider should be prepared to address these issues. The team physician is ultimately responsible for the return-to-play decision, and addressing psychological issues is a significant variable of this decision.

It’s important for athletic trainers and team physicians, as well as student-athletes, coaches and administrators, to understand that emotional reactions to injury are normal. However, problematic reactions are those that either; do not resolve or worsen over time or where the severity of symptoms seems excessive.

Typically these student-athletes are late adolescents or early adults; a key period of development in the body and mind. This is a time of life when very little is normative. It is a period of frequent change and new discoveries that covers many aspects of their lives: families, homes, roles, schools, and much more. The process of becoming an adult is significantly more gradual and varied today than in previous years. Young people take longer to achieve economic and psychological autonomy and early adulthood experiences vary greatly by gender, race and ethnicity, and social class. “Adolescents move from identifying themselves as an extension of their parents (childhood) to recognizing their uniqueness and separation from parents. They develop a sense of self as an individual and as a person connected to valuable people and groups”.

With the rising level of competition in major league sports, more stress is exerted on the athletes’ bodies, leaving long term effects. No matter what sport these athletes take part in, there is a risk of various injuries. For example one of the more talked about ones is the concussion; a concussion is a traumatic brain injury that occurs when a hit to the head causes your brain to slam against your skull. This can be a common injury in athletes who engage in contact sports such as boxing, football or hockey. According to a study published in the January 2009 issue of the medical journal “Brain,” athletes who had experienced one or more concussions during their athletic careers were more likely to encounter a decline in physical and mental performance 30 years later in life compared to those who did not experience a concussion. The study tested the cognitive, neurological and physical performance of 19 former athletes with a history of concussion and 21 athletes with no concussion history. The researchers theorized that a concussion can damage the memory and attention portions of the brain. The benefit is if an athlete takes a development year, there can be new athletic technology and/or an increase in body development in order to decrease the risk of concussion; along with other injuries.

“Along with the risk of concussion, torn cartilage or ligaments on the playing field can increase the likelihood an athlete may experience arthritis later on in life” according to the National Center for Sports Safety. Arthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions your bones wears down, causing the bones to rub against each other. The result is pain, swelling and difficulty moving your joints. Stress from injuries such as a torn anterior cruciate ligament can lead to the earlier onset of arthritis. As these young athletes are in their development year, they go through significant physical and psychological growth. Some young athletes may have bones that are still growing and forming. If an injury is sustained to a young athlete’s bony growth plate, the athlete may experience a bone deformity because the bone can no longer grow properly, according to the “European Journal of Pediatrics.” In addition to stippled growth, an improperly healed bone may take on a crooked appearance or have a visible extra notch of bone. Broken fingers not properly set may result in these bone-deformity types.

When a young student-athlete is debating on taking a development year or not, it is important to bring many factors into consideration. Anywhere from mental and physical development to the need for a college degree, these athletes are the future of the sports leagues that they are competing for. 

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A Look Into A Gap Year For Athletes From The Medical Perspective. (2021, July 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from
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