Kids get hurt. That’s just part of being a kid, and it’s okay. When it comes to organized sports for children and youth, there’s a higher risk of your child experiencing an injury that may impact the rest of her life. Of course, kids can get seriously injured just playing; however, organized, competitive sports increase the chances of a permanent athletic injury in your child.
Should children play competitive sports?
I know competitive sports are good for my kids and definitely good for many children. The benefits of kids playing sports are numerous.
My oldest son has no interest in achieving academic success. However, he’s obsessed with sports. In order for him to be his best self, he needs to play football, basketball, and track sports. If he doesn’t get good grades, school rules say he doesn’t get to play. I don’t even have to pester him to do his homework.
Sports are his motivation to succeed, and as a result, he has developed a positive self-image over the years that extends beyond competition. He knows he can succeed in other areas of his life as well, and because of the school grade sports requirements, he will attend college next year.
My 7-year-old has severe ADHD and the structure of organized sports provides him with a chance to use his high energy in a positive manner. He excels at baseball. His coach understands his occasional lack of attention and will provide outlets for him when he needs it. The camaraderie is hugely beneficial for him, and his self-image improves with each success on the field. He’s learning how to be a confident loser and a gracious winner. These are important life skills he needs to succeed.
Not every sport is going to be a perfect fit for your child. Soccer was not a good choice for my little guy. The drills didn’t give him a chance to have fun and required too much focus without any pay-off, like scoring a goal. I have to sign him up for swimming – he loves it, and if he ends up interested in competitive swimming, I will let him make that choice.
It’s important for children to play different sports in order to promote healthy growth and not overuse young muscles and bones. It is also important to let your little one try various types of sports just to let him enjoy the fun of the game, no matter what it is.
Competitive sports mean sports injuries in kids
Kids can get hurt anywhere. Playground and non-competitive sports lead to a fair share of injuries, but there’s no going around it. If your kids start playing competitive sports, the odds are high that they’ll suffer some sort of injury.
The most common sports injury in children is a sprained ankle. Dehydration is known for increasing the risk of orthopedic injuries like sprains.
Other types of sports injuries include:
- ankle fracture
- knee tears or fractures (anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), meniscus, or patella)
- shoulder dislocation
- hand or wrist sprain/fracture
Many of these are preventable. It’s good to remember that when there’s swelling, you need to RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This will promote healthy healing and flexibility.
It’s also time to see the doctor, just in case. Get some X-rays to check for bone damage. Sometimes you may need an MRI as well if there’s suspicion of other damage, such as cartilage and ligament injury.
Here are some important statistics: there are about 30 million kids playing competitive sports each year and 3.5 million injuries. While many parents have concerns regarding contact sports, the more severe injuries actually occur in individual sports and non-competitive activities. Injuries during practice are the most common.
How do we prevent sports injuries in kids?
Sports safety is an important component of injury prevention. It is the responsibility of coaches and sports organizations to make sure that your child is using the right equipment for her age and is being taught the correct techniques for that sport. However, there are other ways to prevent injury. Let’s go through my oldest son’s major injuries to see what could have been done differently.
His first significant injury occurred during football practice, just before the start of the season. He was 13 at the time. As a fun practice ending, the coaches decided to bring out the slip-and-slide. Yep, I got the call from the coach that the ambulance was on its way because he dislocated his arm and any movement caused him extreme pain. He’s proud of his surgery scars, but let’s just say the slip-and-slide wasn’t a good idea.
While doing the triple jump in track, he landed weirdly, tearing his left lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and slightly shredding his meniscus. This injury could have been avoided had he himself worked more on his form and done pre-event strengthening and stretching. I truly believe the track coaches were so slack in their training that they never required much of him except going out there and jumping.
That would be a failure of mine as I didn’t make it more of an issue. I should have been louder in voicing my concerns and insisting that the coaches and the school focus on preparation and strengthening—the things that will keep kids strong and reduce injury. He wasn’t as proud of those surgery scars and this incident kept him away from football in his sophomore year.
I have a love-hate relationship with high school football, the organized sport with the highest incidence of injuries. I love it because it gave my son something to strive for and succeed in. He has his teammates to spend time with and derive a sense of belonging. I hate it because every time I watched him go out into the field, I panicked when he went down.
During his junior year, he was hit hard and tore his right ACL and his LCL and completely shredded his meniscus. I have no idea how this could have been prevented; sometimes, bad things just happen. He spent the entire year focusing on the healing process, his grades, and strength-building for his senior year. His body is stronger, and now that he is older, he’s more inclined to hydrate, stretch, and strengthen in order to avoid injuries.
Now he is off to college, and I will worry every night during the football season. He knows he has to call me after every game to let me know he’s alright, but I understand that he needs football to succeed academically and socially. Thank goodness he’s never had a severe concussion—that was an experience I went through with my daughter.
Head injuries in youth sports
Concussions are extremely common in many sports. Football, soccer, lacrosse, and basketball feature prominently in the head trauma statistics. Today, there are many advocates who challenge the ways kids are allowed to play.
Parents and Pros for Safer Soccer have advanced the idea that young soccer players shouldn’t be expected to head the ball until they’re in their teens. High school football has changed the way of coaching and improved its best practices protocols as well as helmets for better protection. Still, it’s a good idea to weigh the pros and cons to decide if the sport is worth the potential life-changing injury.
When my daughter was 16, she was playing for a premier soccer team. Her best qualities included speed, and as she was racing down the field, a much larger girl smashed her shoulder into my daughter’s head, sending her into a heap on the ground. The neurosurgeon explained that my girl must have been knocked out by the initial impact and then regained consciousness as she hit the ground. It was the pain that had me worried at first, and then came her loss of memory.
She was hospitalized for a week and missed her entire junior year. We home-tutored her until she could return to school. Thirteen years later, she suffers from post-concussion syndrome. We call them “concussion headaches,” and she has to lie curled in a ball in the dark until it passes. She no longer plays soccer or any contact sport.
Will I let my youngest play soccer if he changes his mind someday in the future? With a heavy heart, I’ll say yes if it can help him become the best he can be; however, I will make sure the coaches follow safety guidelines. I’ll let him play football if he wants to, but I’m really glad he prefers baseball right now. I will make sure he and I do active things together so that he’s well-rounded and also learns the importance of good hydration. I will continue to introduce other sports so he can keep his mind and his body open to new things.
Let them play
Whatever my youngest wants to do today and in the future, I am right beside him. He is my treasure, and although letting him do sports can lead to potential injury, competitive sports will help him develop into a well-balanced young man who strives to succeed and understands how to overcome failure, win graciously, and be a team player. Those are important skills we could all use. In the meantime, I will keep the ice pack ready.