Youth sports are a great experience, and individuals can gain so many benefits from participation. Allowing youth players to play freely, and relaxing the increased need for quantity over quality will provide a balanced experience for individuals to develop and lower the incidence of overuse injuries.
The modern day youth player is now exposed to more specialized early training than ever before. Youth players are in structured sessions multiple times a week without necessary rest, or taking part in stress free play with friends. Any player with a passion can play every day with their friends, and this will help prevent injury through the playing a variety of fun games, including soccer tennis, curbsy, and juggling challenges.
An increase in tournament play, and a lack of rest between games and practices are resulting in more overuse injuries. Youth players are now playing in more games in shorter spaces of time, and the pressure to win is increasing the competitive intensity without increasing the quality.
Stop Sports Injuries
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), participation in organized sports is on the rise. Nearly 30 million children and adolescents participate in youth sports in the United States. This increase in play has led to some other startling statistics about injuries among America’s young athletes:
- High school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries and 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year.
- More than 3.5 million kids under age 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year.
- Children ages 5 to 14 account for nearly 40 percent of all sports-related injuries treated in hospitals. On average the rate and severity of injury increases with a child’s age.
- Overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school students.
- Although 62 percent of organized sports-related injuries occur during practice, one-third of parents do not have their children take the same safety precautions at practice that they would during a game.
- Twenty percent of children ages 8 to 12 and 45 percent of those ages 13 to 14 will have arm pain during a single youth baseball season.
- Injuries associated with participation in sports and recreational activities account for 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among children in the United States.
- According to the CDC, more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable.
- By age 13, 70 percent of kids drop out of youth sports. The top three reasons: adults, coaches and parents.
- Among athletes ages 5 to 14, 28 percent of percent of football players, 25 percent of baseball players, 22 percent of soccer players, 15 percent of basketball players, and 12 percent of softball players were injured while playing their respective sports.
- Since 2000 there has been a five fold increase in the number of serious shoulder and elbow injuries among youth baseball and softball players.
American Academy of Pediatrics
All sports have a risk of injury. Fortunately, for the vast majority of youth, the benefits of sports participation outweigh the risks. In general, the more contact in a sport, the greater the risk of a traumatic injury. However, most injuries in young athletes are due to overuse.
The most frequent types of sports injuries are sprains (injuries to ligaments) strains (injuries to muscles), and stress fractures (injuries to bones). Injury occurs when excessive stress is placed on tendons, joints, bones and muscle. In a growing child, point tenderness over a bone should be evaluated further by a medical provider even if there is minimal swelling or limitation in motion. Contact your pediatrician if you have additional questions or concerns.
To reduce the risk of injury:
- Take time off. Plan to have at least 1 day off per week and at least one month off per year from training for a particular sport to allow the body to recover.
- Wear the right gear. Players should wear appropriate and properly fit protective equipment such as pads (neck, shoulder, elbow, chest, knee, shin), helmets, mouthpieces, face guards, protective cups, and eye-wear. Young athletes should not assume that protective gear will prevent all injuries while performing more dangerous or risky activities.
- Strengthen muscles. Conditioning exercises during practice strengthens muscles used in play.
- Increase flexibility. Stretching exercises after games or practice can increase flexibility. Stretching should also be incorporated into a daily fitness plan.
- Use the proper technique. This should be reinforced during the playing season.
- Take breaks. Rest periods during practice and games can reduce injuries and prevent heat illness.
- Do not play through pain.
- Avoid heat illness by drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise or play; decrease or stop practices or competitions during high heat/humidity periods; wear light clothing.
Sports-Related Emotional Stress
The pressure to win can cause significant emotional stress for a child. Sadly, many coaches and parents consider winning the most important aspect of sports. Young athletes should be judged on effort, sportsmanship and hard work. They should be rewarded for trying hard and for improving their skills rather than punished or criticized for losing a game or competition. The main goal should be to have fun and learn lifelong physical activity skills.