Young boys suffer severe sports injuries with alarming frequency. Though there are multiple reasons for this, the most direct cause seems to be parents pushing young men to specialize in sports with high rates of injury (girls also get injured, but in different ways). Early specialization lead to repetition leads to children displaying sorts of distress — think shoulder pain — more often associated with older athletes. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the chance of stress injuries without telling devoted kids to take it easy.
“Tommy John. ACL tears. We’re seeing more and more young boys getting injuries that we only used to see in the pros,” says Ali Flury, Program Manager with Safe Kids Worldwide. “We believe strongly that sports specialization at a young age is detrimental.”
What sports specialization looks like, Flury explains, is when a child is involved in a single sport year-round and does not participate in others. For example, Fall soccer may transition into indoor soccer league play over the winter, then Spring soccer and a summer travel league. A recent study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has revealed that parents are the primary drivers of sports specialization. Coaches, on the other hand, were responsible for the intense practices that placed an emphasis on specialization rather than fun and personal development.
RECOMMENDED: When Team Sports Hurt Kids
Perhaps the most egregious issue is that sports specialization is not effective at making children any better at their chosen sport, according to the NIH report: “For most sports, there is no evidence that intense training and specialization before puberty are necessary to achieve elite status. Risks of early sports specialization include higher rates of injury, increased psychological stress, and quitting sports at a young age. “
How To Prevent Sports Injuries In Young Boys
- Avoid early specialization in a single sport.
- Encourage a child to engage in a wide range of physical activities throughout the year.
- Purchase and use new helmets instead of wearing old protective equipment.
- Make sure young boys are wearing cups as soon as they are able to play sports.
Flury says young boys, especially before puberty, need to exercise a wider range of muscles. “The more sports they play, the more diverse actions they take and the better, well-rounded athletes they are,” she says.
So, in some ways, playing basketball could help a young boy become a better soccer player. There are skills learned that translate from one sport to the other while increasing strength and simultaneously decreasing injuries due to overuse and repetition.
While young girls suffer from concussions more often and the effects linger longer, young boys more often play sports where the frequency of concussion injuries happen more often. “Football has the highest injury rate per 100 athletes at 8. Wrestling is next at 5, basketball at 4 and soccer at 3,” according to a report from Safe Kids Worldwide.And in football, wearing a helmet can conceal some concussion behaviors. Helmets are also often carried over from year to year and are sometimes as old as the coach. Karla Crosswhite, spokeswoman for the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission says helmets grow ineffective over time. “Regularly check the helmet for cracks or degradation. Remember if you crash it, trash it!”
To make sure the helmet is appropriate tested, make sure the label reads “Complies with U.S. CPSC Safety Standards.” It’s also important to note that helmets are not a purchase to grow into. “Size matters,” Crosswhite says. “Make sure the helmet fits.”
Of course, boys have boy-specific injuries to guard against, too. The American Urological Association recommends young boys start wearing a cup as soon as they start playing any kind of organized sports. Their argument: If a boy’s head is important enough to wear a helmet, why is it OK not to wear a cup?
The NIH study puts an even more fine point on it. “It is very important for boys to wear an athletic cup to protect their groin area from blunt trauma injuries when playing sports,” the study reads. “Any fast-moving kick, ball or helmet that hits a boy in the groin area can cause serious damage, including severe bruising, internal bleeding, testicular fracture or rupture.”