How safe are youth sports? Study says very

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 30, 2004

The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

That's the old adage that usually is associated with youth football and other youth sports.

Some parents are under the belief that there is an addition to this adage – The bigger they are the harder they fall – the hospital bill will make the premium go up.

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According to a study done by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign football is the safest youth sport a child can play.

Peggy Lassiter, whose son Logan plays on the Mighty Mites squad here in Greenville wasn't worried when he wanted to play.

"I asked him if he wanted to play and he did," Lassiter said. "There is a risk in any sport that you play."

Recreation and Pee-Wee football accounted for 187,000 Emergency Room visits in 2002.

That may seem like a large number, but when compared to youth basketball's 207,000 ER trips, it pales in comparison.

Now football is a contact sport, so there will be the occasional bumps and bruises. Basketball isn't, or shouldn't be a contact sport and they both have different types of injuries.

The safest sport for a child of any age to participate in is surprisingly gymnastics.

There was only 21,000 trips to the hospital in 2002 with gymnastic-related injuries.

"At the youth level, the injury rate is very similar almost identical to soccer – mostly bruises. Occasionally some broken bones and growth plate injuries," said Dr. Joe Congeni, director of the Sports Medicine Center at Akron (Ohio) Children's Hospital.

For Mary Jane and Jason Layfield, the decision to let their child play soccer was a no-brainer.

"We asked her if she wanted to play," Layfield said. "She said yes and we went down to sign her up."

Their child plays in 3-4 year old age group.

"We wanted to try to get her involved with sports," Layfield said. "It was around the time of the Olympics so we had the opportunity to let her watch and see how the game was played."

In 2002, 76,000 children went to local hospitals to be treated for soccer-related injuries.

"At the youth level, head and neck injuries are just as likely to happen in a soccer match, a basketball game or on a playground as it is in the sport of football."

The rareness of these injuries is due to the steps in padding and protective gear that youth leaguers have to wear.

"If you prepare your players and teach them and make sure they have the right equipment and as long as their equipment is kept up and reconditioned, I think any youth sport is safe," said Amanda Phillips, Executive Director of the Greenville YMCA. "Players provide their own equipment, but we provide insurance though the Y. So if they get injured, they are insured."

Closer to home, in 2003 72 sport related injuries came through the ER at LV Stabler Memorial Hospital.

Those were kids between the ages of 14-18 that either played some type of sport that either played football basketball baseball finger injuries, wrist, elbow knee and ankle.

Also in 2003, 89 kids between the ages of 7-13 came through the Stabler ER with sports related injuries. Those injuries ranged from wrist fractures to broken collarbones and ankle sprains.

"Before practice starts, we make sure they are fully equipped," said Mack Lee, coach of the Mighty Mites squad. "We also make sure from day one that the kids are well trained on how to use their equipment."

Lee has one child that is playing Junior High football and another that is just starting out and playing Mighty Mites.

Joey Hobbs, Chief Nursing Officer at Stabler Memorial Hospital provided information on how to keep young athletes safe.

"I think any sport can be safe as long as the proper fitting equipment is worn," said Hobbs, "Collarbone injuries occur when a child is wearing the wrong sized shoulder pads. They may be too big and that could cause collarbone injuries. A person can fall off a bicycle and get a fractured wrist."

Hobbs also gave tips on how to avoid ankle injuries.

"Young athletes should wear the hightop cleats," Hobbs said. "While they may not provide much mobility, they do provide the stability that the ankle needs."

"It's all the same equipment they have high school and college, they just might not have the same knowledge of the game," said Rod Owens, assistant coach for the Pee-Wee team. "At practice we try to size them up according to who the match-up with. Most of our team is first year players."

Another statistic calculated by the Brain Injury Association has found that every high school football player has a 20 percent risk of a brain injury during their four-year high school career.

These can range from the headache of a hard collision to the loss of consciousness. With dizziness and being incoherent for a period time thrown in between.

"And, admittedly," said Congeni, "what a brain injury is is the loss of some brain cells – the loss of brain cells you need the rest of your life."

Parent's don't let that last part scare you away from all contact sports.

In 2002 the Mayo Clinic followed 915 youth football players ages 9-13 for one season.

The result was 55 injuries in all – 33 bruises, 11 muscle strains, five ligament sprains, four fractures of growth plates and one concussion. All of the injuries were mild. None required serious hospitalization or surgery. Also, none of the 915

participants suffered any severe neck, back or head injuries.

Knowledge of the game is another way for kids to be safe while playing sports.

"I'm not going to stick a kid out there to play unless I feel confident that he knows what's going on," Lee said. "Football is a contact sport. Kids are going to get bumps and bruises. As long as they are well equipped and learn how to take a lick, then they will be fine."