Participation in sport improves physical fitness, coordination, and self-discipline, and gives children valuable opportunities to learn teamwork. Sporting activities can also result in injuries. Some of these injuries are minor and some are serious. Still others result in lifelong medical problems.
Injury rates from children’s sport in Australia are approximately three injuries per one-hundred children per year, with serious injuries being less than one per one-hundred per year. The incidence increases sharply at the age of 14 particularly amongst boys. Very few serious injuries occur to children less than 10 years of age. The more sport a child plays the more susceptible they are to injuries.
Reasons for Concern
Children are Still Growing Young athletes are not merely small adults. Their bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments are still growing. This makes them more susceptible to injury.
Growth Plates Growth plates are the areas of developing cartilage where bone growth occurs in children. The growth plates are weaker than the nearby ligaments and tendons. What is often a bruise or sprain in an adult can be a potentially serious growth plate injury in a young athlete.
Children Vary in Size and Maturity – Young athletes of the same age can differ greatly in size and physical maturity. Some youngsters may be physically less mature than their peers and try to perform at levels for which they are not ready.
Guidelines for Preventing Sports Injuries
- Be in proper physical condition to play a sport – young people should be encouraged to train for the sport rather than expecting the sport itself to get them into shape. Many injuries can be prevented if youths follow a regular conditioning program with incorporated exercises designed specifically for their chosen sport.
- Know and abide by the rules of the sport
- Wear appropriate protective gear (for example, shin guards for soccer)
- Know how to use athletic equipment
- Always warm up before playing
- Avoid playing when very tired or in pain
- Make It Fun – Youth sports should always be fun. The “win at all costs” attitude of many parents, coaches, professional athletes, and peers can lead to injuries. A young athlete striving to meet the unrealistic expectations of others may ignore the warning signs of injury and continue to play with pain.
Coaches and parents can prevent injuries by fostering an atmosphere of healthy competition that emphasises self-reliance, confidence, cooperation, and a positive self-image, rather than just winning.