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Position Paper

Making Youth Sports Physically and Psychologically Safer
In partnership with Game Changers


Game Changers believes the physical and psychological safety of young athletes is of the utmost importance. Over 30 million kids and teens annually participate in sports around the United States, and 5.6 million of them were affected by sports injuries (Albrecht et al., 2019). As that number of participants grows annually Game Changers believes educating parents, their children and coaches about potential sports injuries and how to take preventive measures becomes an ever increasing concern.

Why youth sports matter

Sports and physical activity provide numerous benefits for children and teens. Social, cognitive and behavioral skills can see enhanced development through sports participation. Children and teens can learn problem-solving skills, the rewards of collaborating with teammates and the ability to develop closer relationships with their peers (The Council of Economic Advisors [CEA], 2018). The most well-known benefit of sports activities are the physical benefits frequently promoted by clinicians and public health advocates. This is important as overweight or obese children and teens are twice more likely to sustain injuries from physical activites than other non-overweight or non-obese peers (McHugh, 2010). Third, children and teens that participate in youth sports often have an increased value of self-worth. Success and fun within an athletic environment can promote self-confidence, determination and inherent value of themselves whether the outcome is a win or a loss (Cabane & Clark, 2015). However the flip side of these benefits are the inherent risks of physical injuries children and teens are exposed to.


Key issues

Sports and physical activities increase the potential for children and teens to receive a wide variety of injuries. Falls, overexertion and being struck by or against an object make up 60% of these injuries (Chen et al., 2016). Common injuries such as sprains/strains, fractures and other superficial injuries may not be fatal, however over half of these episodes resulted in a doctor or health clinic visit. These injuries can take young athletes out of practices and competitions if they require time to heal. The biggest concern that has received major national coverage within the last several years are concussions and traumatic brain injuries, or TBI. Almost a quarter of a million children visit the emergency department per year for TBI related to athletic and recreational activities (The Center for Disease Control [CDC], 2011). 

  • Aches and sores are no big deal and will go away on their own. Over half of all sports-related injuries in youth athletes are due to overuse (National Athletic Trainers’ Association, 2016). These injuries are seemingly minor with symptoms often including sore joints, muscle weakness, and general aches and pains that come with intense physical activity. However overuse injuries are gradual, meaning young athletes can go undiagnosed and untreated for long periods of time, and potentially reach a point of overuse injuries becoming chronic. Any pain children and teen athletes mention need to be monitored, no matter how small or commonplace the injury may appear. Parents need to be made aware of these potential risks and be certain to give their young athletes the down time needed for their muscles and to heal.

  • Pushing young athletes to their limits is necessary for their success. Young athletes are still learning how to monitor their body’s health. They are unable to properly judge the risks of hurting themselves via pushing their bodies too hard. Especially when parents and coaches are telling them that success is the most important thing. Overly intense or excessive physical activity can cause tissue to break down too quickly, and result in injuries occurring.

  • Coaches and athletic faculty are already educated about serious injuries. Less than 30% of coaches have received proper CPR training and even fewer than that have first-aid training (Albrecht, Strand, & Mozumdar, 2010). In fact there are currently no national standards requiring coaches to receive certification for either of these. The assumption that the coaches and athletic faculty around youth athletes will know what to do if a serious injury occurs is clearly not the case. Educating coaches on current emergency medical care and requiring them to stay updated on these methods is an absolute necessity.


The protection of children and teens in youth sports begins with the parents and coaches taking preventative measures to better prevent injury. The acronym R.I.C.E. is an easy to remember starting point for treatment of sports injuries (Nationwide Children’s, n.d.).

Rest: as soon as an athlete is injured, take them off their feet. Stop using the injured area until it can be checked by a doctor. Let them lay down and give their bodies some healing rest.
Ice: use ice to reduce swelling and pain on the injured area. For at least the first two days of injury, apply ice for 15-20 minutes at a time, and do not use while sleeping.
Compression: in order to reduce swelling, compression socks or elastic wraps should be used on the injury. Wrap tight enough to be supportive but loose enough to not cause numbness or discoloration.
Elevation: prop the injured area above the heart and allow gravity to help control excessive swelling.

Every sport and recreational activity has different risks and Game Changers believes those risks can be minimized by prioritizing youth safety and educating parents and coaches on the best preventative practices. Majority of injuries in young athletes can be prevented, and in order to reap the benefits of health that physical activities provide, proactively taking protective measures is crucial.


Albrecht, J., Strand, B., & Mozumdar, A. (2010). Basic first aid qualifications and knowledge among youth sport coaches. Journal of Coaching Education, 3(3), 3-18.
Cabane, C., & Clark, A. E. (2015). Childhood sporting activities and adult labour-market outcomes. Annals of Economics and Statistics 119-120: 123-148.
The Center for Disease Control (2011). Nonfatal traumatic brain injuries related to sports and recreation activities. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Vol. 60 / No. 39. 
Chen, L.H., Hedegaard, H., & Sheu, Y. (2016). Sports- and recreation-related injury episodes in the United States, 2011–2014. National Health Statistics Reports; no 99. 
The Council of Economic Advisors (2018). The Potential for Youth Sports to Improve Childhood Outcomes. 
National Athletic Trainers’ Association (2016). The risk of overuse injuries [Infographic]. 
Nationwide Children’s (n.d.). Kid's sports injuries: the numbers are impressive. The Sports Medicine E-newsletter. 
Rui, P., Ashman, J.J., & Akinseye, A. (2019). Emergency department visits for injuries sustained during sports and recreational activities by patients aged 5–24 years, 2010–2016. National Health Statistics Reports; no 133. 

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