(This blog first appeared on MHSAA.com on November 18, 2016.)
There is much finger pointing when it comes to sports injuries, and I’d like to point in a direction that is often missed.
Some people blame equipment – it’s either inadequate, or it’s so good that it encourages athletes to use their bodies in unsafe ways.
Some people say the rules are inadequate, or inadequately enforced by contest officials.
Some people say the pool of coaches is inadequate, or they are inadequately trained.
But let’s not miss the fact that risk of injury is inherent in athletic activities, and at least part of the reason injuries occur is because the participants are developmentally deficient. In fact, this may be the fastest growing contributing cause to injuries in youth sports. It’s not the sport; it’s the lack of development, the lack of physical preparation.
When rushed into early and intense specialization in a single sport, youth may not be ready for the rigors of that sport. Lindsay J. DiStefano, PhD, ATC, of the University of Connecticut, has researched the topic among youth basketball and soccer players and linked higher injury rates to lower sports sampling, and vice versa. Exposure to multiple sports during early childhood positively influences neuromuscular control and reduces injuries.
Do we encourage youth to sample several sports and help them learn basic athletic movements and skills? Do we offer opportunities to train and condition and focus special attention on strengthening knees and necks? Do we provide more time and attention on practice than on competition and assure safe technique is taught and learned?
Early and intense specialization, with excessive attention to competition, invites injury. There is a much healthier way for most youth – and that’s balanced, multi-sport participation – the specialty of junior high/middle school and high school sports.