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The Epidemic of Youth Sport Injuries

Updated on April 10, 2012

“We always hear about the obesity epidemic. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, there’s definitely a group of kids who are too active.” Pediatrician Joel Brenner in Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids

There is an epidemic in American youth sports—injury. The bad thing is youth don’t take it seriously; parents don’t act fast enough or make wrong decisions about it; and coaches just choose not to see it. But what speaks loudest is the toll it is taking on our youth’s health. Unless everyone keeps an eye on this opponent, it will score big and decrease the fitness sport is meant to give.

Most youth are attracted to sport of some kind and for many reasons. Sports are good and needed for their physical and psycho-social benefits. But injury is unneeded. It can be avoided and reduced and healed, but it should never be ignored; and this is where the problem with youth sport injury lies.

Overuse Injury in Youth Sports

Physical exertion and social bonding is healthy and psychologically rewarding. But today the “play” in sports has left the game. Even school sport programs are all about competition now; and with a goal like that comes more intense training and the risk of physical impairment.

The biggest issues come with overuse injuries resultant of repeated motions. Today ACL injuries, long uncommon in youth, are regularly seen. The same is occurring with a host of crucial knee problems, including ruptured knees; vertebral defects and stress fractures; and Sever’s disease, a foot disease common to young, active but skeletally immature athletes. These kinds of ailments were once only found in persons in middle or late age. Now youth are starting to experience lifelong medical problems.

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Parental Failure with Youth Athletes

Youth are experiencing both internal and external pressure to perform. They want the thrill of the game and all the attendant flare. But many will overlook small pains and discomforts that signal a growing problem. Blinded by the lights, or can we blame it on their undeveloped brains? Perhaps a little of both and more, but theirs is a fully preventable problem.

Thus, parents of active children need to be more proactive. They should be asking questions—“Do you have pain?” and “How long?” Yet this often never occurs with a child that doesn’t talk about pain and a parent with little concern about it.

But there is worse.

Often parents are the very ones pressuring children in sports. Sometimes if the youth isn’t caught up in the hype of becoming a professional, then a parent is and has given in to the business of it all. With full conviction they know that their son or daughter has great potential and, with that motivation, they push the child deeper into regimens and on-field commitments.

Moreover, when the pressure begins taking a physical toll, like injury, these parents are the ones disputing doctors’ admonitions to rest and cease the sport altogether.

Unfit Coaches, Overworked "Stars"

Coaches may be placing youth in harm’s way. Coaches bow to the pressure of winning and will push youth, even the youngest, to undue physical exertion. Further, some coaches have devious ways. Many are known to overplay their best players; others have completely overlooked injuries for the sake of winning or the fear of losing key players.

Youth sport coaches are not required to be credentialed, and this is a concern for many groups and doctors today. Coaches are only required to lead teams (and hopefully know the sport), but beyond that there is not much more required of them.

Credentialing coaches would force them to know gear requirements, anatomy about injury formation, health emergency management, standards for regimen intensity and rest, and, above all, individual player risk factors. Again, parents should be asking questions.


How to Prevent Youth Sport Injury

This epidemic can be reversed and the good thing is that it doesn’t take much to do it. So what things actions can be taken to end unnecessary youth sport injury? Here are a few things.

  • Youth must report discomfort and pain.
  • Parents must start asking questions of youth and coaches. Parents should be aware of their children’s physical risk factors and ailments. A good idea is for parents to visit a doctor with their child before letting the child participate in a sport. They must also interview coaches to know the merits they may have to lead a team, how they intend to train, and what their health crisis management looks like.
  • Parents should give full heed to doctors’ orders. If a doctor orders rest and time out of the game, the order should stand. Most injuries heal with rest; but it is ineffectual and wrong to give a young player a shot just to return him or her to the field.
  • Youth should train in progressive fashion. Too intense training will definitely lead to injury. Also, training should begin preseason for conditioning. This training should have variety and include strength training. The strength training will not be for bulk but strength and muscle efficiency. Youth should use low weights and high numbers of repetition.
  • Parents and coaches must not push kids to perform and neither should they allow a young person’s ambition to go unchecked.
  • Coaches should group players by skill and size and not age. Athletes of the same age have no guarantee of performing at the same level; and people of the same age may vary greatly in size and physical ability.
  • Treat injuries and treat them quickly. Some injuries can cause permanent damage and interfere with proper growth when left untreated.

None of these actions are difficult, but they do require effort of all of us. There is no reason sport, ambition, or neglect should leave our youth with unnecessary and lifelong health issues.


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    • ithabise profile image

      Michael S. 5 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      I applaud your being a conscientious coach and good parent on the issue. I also like your point about some injuries occurring simply due to lack of proper activity--so poignant. A lifelong injury that was preventable...well I guess there's no way to calculate the regret. Thanks for an eye-opening comment.

    • ithabise profile image

      Michael S. 5 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      So sorry to hear this, DJPK. You need not "like to think" that you know better now: you do indeed. And the redemption is in helping others see what you couldn't at the time. Thanks for sharing your comment.

    • adjkp25 profile image

      David 5 years ago from Northern California

      It is true that youth injuries are a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

      I have coached baseball for many years now. At the beginning of each season I do ask the players and parents about previous injuries, asthma, etc. that I might need to know about. I had a player last year that had asthma but didn’t speak up when I asked about it; I found out a week or so later when he pulled out his inhaler. Unfortunately not all players will speak up when asked about medical conditions.

      I do agree that coaches can play a critical role in keeping these young athletes safe even though I think some of the injuries can be associated with not enough normal physical activity and too much video games, TV or whatever.

      I always watch the players when we are practicing or playing a game. If someone grabs their arm or elbow I immediately talk to them about it. If it hurts, or they felt something, they are taken out of the game for precautionary reasons. These games are not worth endangering their arms for their entire lives. Too emphasize this point I wouldn’t even let me son throw a curve ball until he was 14.

      Good job increasing awareness on this issue though.

    • DJProfessorK profile image

      Kyle Ilgenfritz 5 years ago from York, PA

      This is a good hub for sure. I was injured at 17 with a torn rotator cuff and it ended up being career-ending. It was a result of overuse (aided by family who pushed me to the brink of physical failure) and I regret not pulling the plug myself. I didn't know any better at the time, but now I'd like to think that I do.