Are Youth Sports Too Risky?

Take a good look at the potential risks, but don't forget the rewards.

Ice hockey players and coach
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On the one hand, injuries—potentially devastating ones. On the other hand, obesity. If we had more hands, we could add a lot more to the youth sports pro and con list. Risks abound, and it can be hard to figure out what to make of them. Is it really worth it for your child to play?

The Sports and Fitness Industry Association says that participation in the most popular youth team sports is dropping.

Basketball is down 8 percent over 5 years, baseball and soccer 7 percent, and tackle football 5 percent. This could be due to competing activities, along with a fear of injuries.

Sports do account for about 20 percent of the injuries that send kids ages 6 to 19 to the emergency department annually (according to the National Athletic Trainers' Association). A small number of children and teens even die each year from sports-related injuries.

Given those scary stats, it's hard to imagine putting your child on the field. How do you weigh the risks?

RISK: Injury, especially head injury. Concussions are a big deal, and other injuries can have lasting effects too. Protect your child by:

  • Consulting a physician prior to play. A pre-participation physical exam can help uncover hidden dangers (like an undiagnosed heart condition), and your child's doctor can help you learn how to manage chronic conditions, such as asthma, in your athlete. And you can discuss any risks particular to your child, whether that means a previous injury or a neurological condition.
  • Getting a baseline concussion test. This neuropsychological test, which must be administered by a trained professional, could help diagnose the severity of a concussion if one occurs, and guide the recovery process.
  • Making sure she's physically ready to play. For example, using the right strengthening program can help reduce knee ligament tears in girls.
  • Having him use protective equipment, always. Make sure it is the right size and in good repair.
  • Discussing safety and injury prevention with coaches and other team leads. What is the concussion policy? If they're playing a contact sport, are kids learning the safest way to tackle?
  • Avoiding over-training. Spending too much time on one sport or skill can easily lead to an overuse injury.

RISK: Burnout. Keep the fun in sports, or you may find your child giving up prematurely due to stress. Alleviate this risk by:

  • Laying off the pressure! Your child needs to know that your love for her doesn't depend on her success in sports.
  • Making sure he doesn't specialize in one sport too early.
  • Encouraging your child to compete to excel instead of being strictly motivated by winning.

RISK: People behaving badly, from teammates to coaches to other parents. As with the other risks, you can't always avoid these issues, but you can address them if they do crop up. Keep an eye out for:

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