Youth athletics have gotten steadily more intense. The National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) is addressing the middle school and high school sports load, which has led to injuries, surgeries at increasingly younger ages and sports burnout.
“Studies show that young athletes often see specialization as a prerequisite to advancing, [whether it’s] making the varsity team, earning a college scholarship or progressing to the professional level,” NATA President Tory Lindley, MA, ATC said in a NATA press release. “When athletes specialize too early, or engage in excessive play, they are increasing the probability of injury and reducing the chances of achieving their goals. We want to help athletes and parents recognize health is a competitive advantage.”
This may be easier said than done. John O’Sullivan, CEO of Changing the Game Project, tells Parentology the sports status quo is powerful “The problem is the system encourages them [kids] to choose one sport early,” O’Sullivan says. “I call it the race to nowhere. We do more and more, younger and younger, because of the system, not because it’s good for our kids.”
O’Sullivan recommends a more movement-based approach, through sports like martial arts and yoga, versus a focus on team sports. Unfortunately, colleges don’t see those as resume item.
Sports Injuries in Kids Has Increased
As the college admissions process has gotten more cutthroat, so has the pressure to either specialize in a sport or add a sport to increase admissions chances. With this emphasis, though, comes greater risk: injuries that stay with your child long after the sport has been set aside.
According to Stanford Children’s Health, about 30 million kids in the US participate in organized sports. Those participants experience approximately 3.5 million injuries annually. About one-third of all childhood injuries are, in fact, due to sports, primarily sprains and strains.
In 2009, the Consumer Product Safety Commission published these figures, broken down by sport. This Parentology article delves into these statistics. What’s predominant in this report — some of these sports aren’t organized school or club activities, but more casual recreational ones. The main takeaway here is the need for protective headgear. While deaths are rare, the most common sports injuries associated with death are brain injuries. Again, wearing a helmet is the best prevention.
Another point not mentioned in the list: high school cheer squads that incorporate gymnastics in routines. Cheerleading isn’t considered a sport, and thus doesn’t require helmets, protective flooring or mats.
A 2015 article in Huffington Post stated, “Studies show that cheerleading, as a sport, has a higher risk of concussion (14 per 100,000) during practice, when athletes are learning new skills, versus during competition (12 per 100,000), when skills are already learned and perfected. Head injuries account for more than 36% of cheerleading-related injuries.”
That’s a lot of concussions.
NATA Recommendations Are Safe and Sane
NATA is made up of sports trainers, a population that’s decidedly pro sports. However, trainers recognize downtime and rest are just as important as practice and implementation.
Large organized sports associations agree. NATA’s statement has been endorsed by Professional Football Athletic Trainers’ Society, Professional Hockey Athletic Training Society, Professional Soccer Athletic Trainers’ Society, National Basketball Athletic Trainers’ Association, Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers’ Society and the NATA Intercollegiate Sports Medicine Council.
And for those parents looking to get their kid into the big leagues, wearing them out in high school isn’t a sound plan.
“There is a trend with players being drafted, coming in with multiple overuse injuries and related surgeries, such as Tommy John surgery [which involves ligament repair] – unfortunately that age appears to be getting younger and younger each year,” Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) President, Ron Porterfield, ATC said in a press release on NATA”s website. “Baseball is a marathon and not a sprint, so having healthy players who can come in and go the distance in development can make a huge difference.”
Another point NATA makes is the idea that very early sports specialization is a mistake, leading to repetitive injuries; big sports teams want healthy players.
“The players who make it into the NFL are significantly more likely to have played multiple sports while growing up,” Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) President, James Collins, ATC said in a press release. “In fact, almost 90% of 2018 NFL Draft picks were multiple-sport athletes.”
Parentology recently reported on NATA’s extensive recommendations, which can be found here.
Finally, keep in mind that you’re the parent, and you get to control how much or how little your child participates, not the school, coach or a guidance counselor.
“Parents are supposed to be advocates for the entire person, not just the athlete, so it is up to us to manage our children’s hours in organized sports and time off. it is also up to us to ensure they get a multi-movement experience either through multi-sport experiences or sports such as martial arts, tumbling, parkour, or yoga,” O’Sullivan says. “We need to develop the person, the athlete, and then the sport-specific skills.”