Play it safe, but play

Spring is coming! Our kids are streaming back to the playing fields. No one is happier about this than I am. Youth sports have so much to offer our kids – physically, emotionally, socially – as long as they’re not side-lined by injury.

Did you know?*

  • Sports injuries to youth (0-14 years) in 1997 cost the US public almost $50 billion? And that’s 1997!
  • There are more than 40,000 knee injuries due to youth sports participation each year in the US. 50% of those will affect quality of life into adulthood.
  • Most youth sports injuries are preventable with correct use of protective equipment, better training and, I would add, some attitude adjustment.

Two important factors which contribute to the growing youth injury problem are, ironically, opposites: lack of fitness and overtraining. For some kids, the only significant exercise they get is in organized sports activities. They’re not in shape to play. So, we need to make conditioning as important as competition in our youth programs. (Good advice for the weekend warriors, too.) The key is making conditioning like a game or “hidden” in practice drills and skill sessions.

For other kids, whether self-driven or facilitated by an over-achieving (often well-meaning) parent, the problem is too much training. They play multiple sports per season or the same sport every season starting at very young ages. They participate in 5 or 6 consecutive hours of training and playing most days of the week. They play too many minutes, pitch too many innings, put too much impact on growing bones and fragile joints, and they’re still in elementary school. This isn’t play. It’s work!

Unfortunately, there is a third and growing category of injury in youth sports: emotional abuse. It comes from coaches, parents and players. I’ve seen it firsthand: players ridiculing or threatening other players, parents forcing their kids to play or humiliating them when they don’t play well, coaches with a “win at all cost” mentality who regularly berate players and officials. Just what do kids take away from that kind of youth sports experience? Unfortunately, a lot. None of it good.

Yes, spring is almost here. By all means, get outdoors and play! But let’s remind ourselves and our kids:

  • Sports are for fun and fitness.
  • Learning how to play is as important as winning or losing – and we’ll love them either way.
  • Treating other athletes, coaches and officials with respect is following the golden rule.

That way, we’ll keep injuries of all types from spoiling the fun. How do you know if its fun? When your kid begs , “Please, can I play again next season?”

*Data from National Youth Sports Safety Foundation, Inc.

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