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Michelle Healy, USA TODAY

With the start of a new school year comes a new season of youth sports, and with it, growing concerns about player safety.

A new survey by the non-profit advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide finds "an alarming gap" in what is known about sports safety and what is being done to reduce the risk of injury to young athletes, whether playing scholastic, intramural, recreational, select or club team sports.

According to the survey of 1,000 athletes in the seventh through 10th grades, 1,000 coaches and 1,000 parents:

42% of players report that they have hidden or downplayed an injury during a game so they could keep playing; 62% say they know someone else who has done so.

54% say they have played injured and 70% of those kids say they told a coach or parent that they were hurt. Top reasons given for playing injured: It wasn't that bad (18%); couldn't let the team down (13%); didn't want to be benched (12%).

33% say they have been injured as a result of dirty play from an opponent; 28% agree that it is normal to commit hard fouls and play rough to "send a message" during a game.

53% of coaches say they felt pressure from a parent or player to put an injured athlete back in a game.

The findings highlight behaviors within youth sports that need to be addressed by players, parents and coaches in order to reduce injuries, says Kate Carr, Safe Kids president and CEO.

"We need to start the season talking about how we're going to play safe, how we're going to keep all of our kids in the game so that they all can play safe and strong," says Carr.

The number of kids who are injured seriously enough while playing sports to warrant a trip to the emergency room -- 1.24 million in 2013; 3,400 a day -- "is an astounding number" that's also "driving enormous health care costs," says Carr.

Although many of the injuries are bumps and bruises, others are far more serious. According to the report, 13% of kids surveyed say they have had a broken bone; 4% say a torn ligament (ACL) injury; 12% say a concussion or head injury; and even more report having a headache (28%) or dizziness (24%) after playing a sport, both possible symptoms of a concussion or dehydration.

Having kids participate in sports is one important way to address the nation's overweight and obesity epidemic among youth and offers valuable lessons in leadership and teamwork, says former U.S. surgeon general David Satcher, co-chair of the National Council on Youth Sports Safety.

"But because of the reports of injuries, I think more and more parents are very cautious of having their children participate," he says.

The new report is the latest to point out a culture "that gives rise to more injuries," says Satcher. "That culture is you keep playing when you get injured. You stay in the game. You sometimes even have practice routines that contribute to injuries."

Satcher, who has worked on efforts addressing concussions, repetitive brain trauma and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) among former NFL players, says much of that work is now focused on limiting the risk of concussions in high school or before. "It's between the ages of 12 (to) 15 that we probably see the most concussions," he says.

Also of particular concern are injuries resulting from overuse. In an effort to improve their game and "get to the next level," many young athletes start specializing in a sport at "an earlier and earlier age," playing it exclusively all year long, says Michael Goldenberg, a board member with the National Athletic Trainers' Association.

That increases the risk of physical injuries and also the risk of getting emotionally burned out from a sport they love, says Goldenberg, director of athletics and an athletic trainer at The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, N.J. The same concerns apply to doing too many sports at one time, he says: "The body needs time for rest and recovery."


August 14, 2014




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