Can we change the culture of youth sports? 


New survey shows alarming number of athletes injured as a result of dirty play, athletes hiding injuries to stay in the game and parents pressuring coaches to play injured athletes

Every day, 3,400 children sustain a sports injury severe enough to go to the emergency room. Safe Kids Worldwide, with the support of Johnson & Johnson, conducted a survey of parents, coaches and young athletes to explore how the culture of sports may be keeping kids out of the game.

The report, “Changing the Culture of Youth Sports” takes an in-depth look at behaviors that may lead to serious injuries.

One in four young athletes reported it is normal to commit hard fouls and play rough to “send a message” during a game. This norm leads to a disturbing number of injuries: 33 percent of athletes report being hurt as the result of “dirty play” from an opponent.

Approximately 42 percent of players reported they have hidden or downplayed an injury during a game so they could keep playing, and 62 percent said they know someone else who has done so. Only 27 percent of coaches reported a player having hidden or downplayed an injury.

More than half of athletes reported playing while injured. Reasons given include not wanting to let the team down or not wanting to be benched.

More than half of coaches reported being pressured by a parent or player to put an athlete back into a game when a child has been injured.

“We can change the culture of sports for our young athletes,” said Cynthia Dennis, RN, Safe Kids Northeast Florida. “Encourage kids to speak up when they are hurt, give them time to recover, and give coaches the tools they need to be effective.”

With kids heading back to school, Safe Kids has some strategies for teens, parents and coaches to help keep young athletes safe while playing sports:

 Culture-Changing Strategies

  • Set the ground rules at the beginning of the season. Coaches bring together parents and athletes before the season begins to agree on the team’s approach to prevent injuries.
  • Teach athletes ways to prevent injuries. Proper technique, strength training, warm-up exercises and stretching can go a long way to preventing injuries.
  • Prevent overuse injuries. Encourage athletes to take time off from playing only one sport to prevent overuse injuries and give them an opportunity to get stronger and develop skills learned in another sport.
  • Encourage athletes to speak up when they’re injured. Remove injured athletes from play.
  • Put an end to dirty play and rule-breaking. Call fouls that could cause injuries.
  • Get certified. Learn first aid, CPR, AED use and injury prevention skills.

Keeping kids safe is a team effort. There is nothing more important than growing healthy, happy kids. Throughout our 26-year partnership, Safe Kids and Johnson & Johnson have remained committed to reducing preventable injuries in children. 

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