Can we change the culture of youth sports?

(BPT) – Youth sports are, and should always be, a valuable experience, filled with challenges, competition and fun. But preventable injuries sideline too many young athletes; in 2013, 1.24 million kids sustained a sports injury severe enough to go to the emergency room.

New research suggests that the current culture of sports may be leading to unnecessary injuries. A new report, “Changing the Culture of Youth Sports,” published by Safe Kids Worldwide, with the support of Johnson & Johnson, reveals an alarming number of young athletes are injured as a result of dirty play. The survey of 1,000 young athletes, 1,000 coaches and 1,000 parents also found that young athletes are hiding injuries to stay in the game and parents are pressuring coaches to play injured athletes.

Based on the results of the survey, Safe Kids recommends parents, coaches and players take three steps to change the culture in youth sports so kids can stay in the game.

1. Put an end to dirty play. 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” by an opponent. Sports teach valuable lessons and should be competitive and entertaining, but we must move away from a “winning at all costs” mentality that is actually detrimental to the health and development of young athletes.

2. Give coaches the training they need and want. One in four coaches reported they don’t take any specific actions to prevent sports injuries. Less than half of coaches say they have received certification on how to prevent and recognize sports injuries. More training for coaches could help ensure that they are well versed in the proper techniques for top performance and injury prevention.

3. Teach young athletes to speak up when they are injured. About 42 percent of players reported they have hidden or downplayed an injury during a game so they could keep playing. The phrases “taking one for the team,” “suck it up” and “playing through the pain” should be removed from the dialogue. At the end of the day, young players must feel it’s OK to tell coaches, parents and other players that they’ve been hurt and it’s time to sit it out.

“Changing the culture in sports isn’t about limiting kids,” says Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. “It’s about creating an atmosphere where our young athletes can compete, have fun and reach their full potential. Working together, we can keep our kids active, strong and safe so they can enjoy the sports they love for a lifetime.”

To learn more about how parents, coaches and young athletes can work together to prevent injuries, download the report and infographic at www.safekids.org.

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