With springtime, many of us have children outside competing hard in baseball, soccer, and all kinds of athletic activities. Sports are great for keeping kids healthy, but it’s important to be aware of potential injuries.
Hilary Benson from Parent Map joined KING5 in studio to talk about the increasing number of young athletes who are getting hurt.
A lot of us have been hurt over the years doing a sport, what's different now?
What's happening in kids' sports, is like what's happening in other parts of our society; there are extremes. We know childhood obesity is a problem. Too many kids aren't active and make poor dietary choices. But, at the other end of the spectrum is, what sports medicine experts call an "epidemic" or "crisis" in the skyrocketing number of injuries.
Some are traumatic, such as concussions or ACL tears in the knee. The others are "overuse" injuries, the repetitive impact on a joint or muscle. And, here's what has changed… of the estimated 3.5 million children under 14 years old who get hurt each year during either organized or individual sports, an estimated half of them are overuse injuries. They're putting their growing bodies through too much, and when it comes to kids' sports, the “no pain, no gain” saying just doesn't hold true.
What's behind that trend?
One factor is sports specialization. When a lot of us grew up, we moved from season to season, switching sports in a way that many children don't do now. Kids are being pigeon-holed at a younger age to play one sport year-round. They might go from the school team, then straight into the club season, particularly if they play at a select or premier level, and their bodies aren't getting a break. Young athlete's bodies are growing, but too many coaches and parents are training their kids with regimens that are very similar to what the pros do.
The doctor who's led the charge on this, an orthopedic surgeon named Jim Andrews has worked with the Manning brothers, Albert Pujols… he said he's seeing half his patients being youth athletes now, he tells me, 12-year-olds, with the same injuries the pros suffer from. And that's why, at the local and national levels, sports medicine experts are trying to bring some sanity back to youth sports.
Where is this pressure for year-round, super intense sports training coming from?
Depends -- in some cases, it's the parents, and it's not that they don't mean well. Perhaps they see college athletic scholarships as a possibility? The truth is, according to the federation that oversees high school sports, less than one percent of high school athletes get scholarships to play a sport in college, let alone the professional level. We've got an article on tips for being a good sports parents in ParentMap this month.
Sometimes, sometimes it’s the kids themselves. No competitive kid likes sitting out.
In other cases, coaches can create the pressure. Many coaches are excellent, but others may not know proper technique, or perhaps they're very driven to win and don't watch closely for signs of injury.
Seattle Children's has an athletic training center, where they work with high schools to get certified trainers in the schools, and they'd like to see that for middle schools and clubs too. We also have an article on this on our website. If chronic injuries are caught, they won't become major problems. And if there is a serious injury, a trainer being onsite knows best what to do.
Concussions are getting more attention now, aren't they?
They are. It's been four years since the Zach Lystedt law, so with the forms and tests there has developed a great awareness of the signs of concussion, including the fact that a person doesn't need to be unconscious to have suffered a concussion. This public awareness has gone beyond football to soccer, lacrosse, and other sports. That said, there's always a need for more awareness and reaching more people.
What are the tips for minimizing the risk of injuries?
- Get a physical. A child should be evaluated by a medical professional to make sure there is no underlying issue.
- Stay fit throughout year. Injuries often happen when kids go from 0 to 60 without strengthening their muscles.
- Warm-up before practice and play. Good coaches will train the kids right here, getting the body warm, the stretching… they shouldn't just go out and compete cold.
- Properly fitted equipment. Shoes, helmets, pads, they all should fit right to truly protect the child.
- Practice good technique. This goes for any sport, and is another reason why good coaches are critical.
For more on this, visit ParentMap's website.