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The Epidemic of Youth Sport Injuries
“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.