Sports Injuries and Kids: Prevention is the Best Remedy

Armen Hareyan's picture

There is a lengthy tradition in our country for youth sports teams. Not only is physical education a required subject in most schools, but great numbers of children also play on school teams and/or community leagues. Being involved in team sports can be very beneficial for children. It enables them to develop physical skills, strengthen self-esteem, learn teamwork and exposes them to the benefits of enjoying physically active and healthy lives.

Parents, however, can often have mixed feelings about their children's sports activities. We want them to have fun, but we don't want them to get hurt in the process. This concern is not ill founded. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 775,000 children under the age of 15 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for sports injuries annually. The CDC reports that 80% of these injuries are from playing contact sports such as football, basketball, baseball and soccer. About two thirds of these injuries are ligament sprains and muscle strains. While generally mild, these injuries create inconveniences for children and parents and they do require medical treatment. If these injuries are not allowed to heal properly, a minor injury can develop into one that can interfere with proper growth and cause life-long problems.

Not all children's sports injuries are preventable. But there are specific things parents can do to make sure their children are playing sports as safely as possible. Surprisingly, sports injuries among children are primarily prevented through good coaching, good officiating, good equipment and fields, and good health care. Whether or not your child's sports team is doing all that can be done to prevent injuries can be determined by asking the following questions of the team and/.or league your child wishes to join.

Good Coaching

  • Are coaches informed about serious medical concerns of their players?

  • Are coaching staff trained and prepared to provide appropriate emergency and first aid response?

  • Are coaches providing physical conditioning instruction?

Good Officiating

  • Are consistent and appropriate rules being followed to protect players from harm?

Good Equipment & Field Conditions

  • The incidence and severity of injuries is decreased when equipment and playing fields are in good condition and properly maintained.

Good Health Care

  • Does the league/school require a preseason physical and health history information?

  • Are medical personnel in attendance at games and practices when feasible?

  • Do medical personnel serve on the league/team's controlling organization?


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), and the National SAFE KIDS Campaign have joined together with other sports and health organizations to offer the following, even more proactive, steps for parents to take to ensure their child's safety when playing sports. When these elements are positively in place, the chances of safe sports activities are increased.

  • Before your child starts a training program or enters a competition, take him or her to the doctor for a physical exam. The doctor can help assess any special injury risks your child may have.

  • Make sure your child wears all the required safety gear every time he or she plays and practices. Know how the sports equipment should fit your child and how to use it. If you're not sure, ask the coach or a sporting goods expert for help. Set a good example-if you play a sport, wear your safety gear, too.

  • Insist that your child warm up and stretch before playing, paying special attention to the muscles that will get the most use during play (for example, a pitcher should focus on warming up the shoulder and arm).

  • Teach your child not to play through pain. If your child gets injured, see your doctor. Follow all the doctor's orders for recovery, and get the doctor's OK before your child returns to play.

  • Make sure first aid is available at all games and practices.

  • Talk to and watch your child's coach. Coaches should enforce all the rules of the game, encourage safe play, and understand the special injury risks that young players face.

  • If you're not sure if it's safe for your child to perform a certain technique or move (such as heading a soccer ball or diving off the highest platform), ask your pediatrician and the coach about it.

  • Above all, keep sports fun. Putting too much focus on winning can make your child push too hard and risk injury.

How do you know if your child is ready to play a sport? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you wait until your child is six years old to play team sports. Most children younger than that don't understand the concept of team play. With older children, you should decide if it's OK for them to play based on their physical and emotional development and their eagerness to play. Your child's doctor can help you make this decision. Remember, pushing children to play a sport before they're ready, or when they don't want to, can increase their risk of getting hurt.


This material is intended to provide general educational information and to help users arrange more easily for health care services. This site is not an attempt to practice medicine or provide specific medical advice and should not be used to make a diagnosis or to replace or overrule a qualified health care provider's judgment. Nor should users rely upon this information if they need emergency medical treatment. We strongly encourage users to consult with a qualified health care professional for answers to personal questions.

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