The growing intensity of youth sports at increasingly younger ages brings with it increasingly dangerous health risks, according to an article by highschoolot.com.
More and more, young athletes are pressed to specialize in one sport in the hopes of earning a college scholarship or going on to play professionally, increasing the risk of injury due to overuse.
According to a study by the National Federation of State High School Associations, high school student-athletes who specialize in one sport are 70 percent more likely to suffer a debilitating injury.
Head athletic trainer at Clayton High School (N.C.) Adam Wall told highschoolot.com, “[If an] athlete specializes in one particular sport, you’re doing the same movements over, and over and over again. So that definitely creates the mechanism for more catastrophic injuries to occur.”
According to a report by Safe Kids Worldwide, serious injuries in young athletes are common. Data from 2012 shows that more than 1.35 million youths visited the emergency room due to a sports-related injury, most commonly for sprains, strains, fractures or concussions.
Assistant professor Dr. Janet Simon of Ohio University, who studies athlete’s health, told highschoolot.com that even a sprain can cause long-term chronic pain if repeatedly re-injured.
According to Wall, in his four years at Clayton, he has seen between three and six athletes each year require surgery for a sports-related injury. He has also treated between five and ten concussions per season.
Said Wall, “They’re willing to do whatever they can to try to get a scholarship, whether it’s sacrificing their health, they’re willing to do it, unfortunately.”
However, such sacrifices only pay off for a very small percentage of youth athletes. According to the NCAA, only two percent of high school athletes are awarded a college scholarship, and of those, only two percent go on to play in a professional major league.
There’s also the risk of overuse injury cutting short a potential college or professional career. In the past two years, Wall has seen two athletes forced to retire from their sport entirely due to concussion.
According to highschoolot.com, athletes who specialize in a sport from a young age can experience a loss of identity when forced into a medical retirement, going through a kind of grieving stage before learning to define themselves in a different way.
Wall’s counsel to young athletes in that situation is to remind them that retirement spares them from a host of long-term health problems. In her research, Dr. Simon has found that former college athletes sleep less and suffer more chronic pain than non-athletes.