Preventing Youth Sports Injuries

The Safe Kids organization and Johnson & Johnson have teamed up to help prevent youth sports injuries.  Over 3,000 kids require trips to the emergency room every day for treatment of sports-related injuries.  Healthcare professionals are working to inform the public that injuries can be avoided, and parents, coaches, and athletes can all take steps to prevent sports-related injuries in young athletes.

1
Set Ground Rules

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It is critical to have everyone on the same page at the start of any sporting event or sports season.  Coaches, parents, and athletes should understand the rules of their league and the expectations around behavior.  Poor sportsmanship and aggressive behavior should not be tolerated.

Investing time in teaching athletes how to prevent sports injuries should be incorporated into practices.  Having coaches, parents and athletes understand the value of these injury prevention activities is important.

2
Teach Injury Prevention

Photo © Mikkel William Nielsen

Injuries can be prevented.  A common misconception is that you can't teach better body movement, when in fact you can.  Many people believe you can't teach athletes how to cut, pivot, jump or land more safely.  The belief is because you are acting instinctively, you can't change those movements.  But you can!

Just as we teach soccer players to dribble a ball, or baseball players to field a ground ball, we can teach instinctive movements.  Teaching athletes to use their body safely can lower the likelihood of injury.

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3
Avoid Overuse Injuries

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There is a common misconception by novice coaches that "more is better."  Interestingly, sophisticated and well trained coaches understand that avoiding overuse and burnout is far more advantageous to their team than over-training.

I work with a very successful collegiate cross country team, with a tradition of success led by a very experienced coach.  It amazes me how he can get higher performance from his athletes (by cross training and appropriately resting) than other teams that train more than twice the mileage he does.  Furthermore, he loses far fewer athletes to injury (such as stress fractures and runner's knee), because of his knowledge of the right level of training.

Overuse injuries starting in youth sports are thought to contribute to long term problems, such as elbow injuries in throwing athletes.  Injuries in little league players may lead to lasting problems later in life.

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4
Encourage Athletes to Speak Up

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Over half of all youth athletes have reported they played injured at some point in time.  42% of youth athletes state they have hidden injuries to avoid being removed from their sport. 

Athletes need to understand that timely attention to their injuries will help speed their recovery and get them back to play.  It is often the case that professional athletes will take longer time away from sports than a youth athlete to ensure complete recovery from a similar injury. 

Coming back from injury too soon can lead to worsening of the injury and an even longer time away from sports.

5
End Dirty Play

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A third of athletes report they have sustained injuries as a result of a dirty play.  It is far too common for young athletes to feel they need to "send a message" with aggressive play that is not within the rules of their sport.

Parents and coaches should teach young athletes to play within the rules of their sport, and consequences for not adhering to the rules of play should include removal from competition.

6
Get Certified

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At the highest levels of professional athletics, sidelines are often tended to by physicians, athletic trainers, and emergency medical personnel.  Unfortunately, many youth sports lack the presence of anyone with a background in management of athletic injuries.

Coaches should be encouraged to obtain training and certification in basic skills to manage both common and serious injuries that can occur on the playing field.  Basic first aid, CPR, and AED use are all useful skills for any coach to have.  Proper concussion management should be taught to coaches.  Leagues can encourage certification by sponsoring and hosting education sessions for coaches and parents.

Learn More About Youth Sports Injury Prevention

The Safe Kids organization has compiled excellent resources to help inform the public and connect people to resources that can help to prevent injuries.

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