Seventy-five percent of American families have at least one school-aged child participating in an organized sport. On the surface, it may appear today’s youth have disengaged from a sedentary lifestyle, and are happily balancing physical exercise with fun! The following statistics send a more powerful message:
- 2.6 million youth ranging in age from 5 to 24 are visiting the emergency room for sports-related injuries.By the time children reach the age of 15, the attrition rate increases by 80%.
- 67% of injuries occur during practice sessions. Sprains and muscle strains, bone or growth-plate or repetitive-motion injuries, and heat-related illness are the most common types of sports-related injuries among children.
- 80% of children are no longer engaged in sports by the age of 13.
- 10% of high school athletes play at a college level, and only 1% receive an athletic scholarship.
- The odds of becoming a professional athlete are: 1 in 4,233 (football), 1 in ,771(men’s basketball), and 1 in 13,015 (women’s basketball)
- 59% of elite athletes are inspired by their parents to begin playing one sport, while 28% stated they were inspired to practice by friends.
Stress Levels in Children
The days of seeing neighborhood children playing hockey in the cul-de-sac, or spending hours riding bicycles have been replaced by the rise of two distinct categories: those who either sit indoors playing video games or participate in organized competitive sports. With an epidemic of two out of three children labeled as obese, the other end of the spectrum identifies children as young as six treated as rising professional athletes. It begins with a mindset that believes practicing one sport throughout the year will ensure stardom. This drive comes with a price. Young athletes who are pushed to play on multiple teams and endure an intense training schedule have resulted in a claim of burnout not for one sport, but all sports, by the age of 13.
Injuries Lasting a Lifetime
The desire for fun and comradery within a team has long-lasting implications for adults, who spend their childhood inflicted with numerous sports injuries. A body still in developing stages is not strong enough to handle overuse. The risk for fractures throughout the bone and growth plate increases with each injury. By minimizing the need for rest and rehabilitation, teenagers are enduring injuries and chronic pains usually diagnosed for adults.
Words from a Coach
In the hope of sharing her perspective, a coach has offered her viewpoint by writing, “The typical kid who walks through my door on the first day isn’t as athletic as he used to be. Basic movement skills have been skipped over, and injury histories are more extensive. The athletes are a bit ‘desensitized’ to the overall training process. They view everything as just another game or practice; so, the value of each training exposure is a bit less. I feel we need to change our attitudes toward them and behavior surrounding them—and most importantly, how we interact with our kids concerning their athletic careers. When parents are not watching, kids begin to let their guards down, make new friends, and try things they otherwise wouldn’t attempt. This is a big part of both physical and social development. Sports are a great way to teach kids to ‘roll’ with different social circles, and it’s important for them to get this experience on their own.”
A New Pathway
While we cannot change the requirement for athletic achievement with healthy and happy kids, there is one direction parents can model on the field or in the gym. It requires the focus to be on the enjoyment of the game and practicing positive and supportive behavior. With 80% of children leaving all sports by the age of 13, there is, sadly, room to reach for the stars by creating a personal definition of athletic achievement.