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Sports-Related Hospital Visits on the Rise Among Young People


Baseball season is about to begin, and Burt suggests that as many as one-third of baseball injuries could be prevented if players used such protective equipment as softer-than-standard baseballs, modified safety bases that protect players when they slide, and football-type helmets to protect players' faces.

"Parents need to be more careful and make sure [their kids] have and use safety equipment," Burt says. "When you buy a bike, spend the extra money to buy a helmet."

Ice skating, roller skating, and skateboarding resulted in 150,000 trips to the ER among people aged 5-24, while gymnastics and cheerleading were responsible for 146,000 ER visits among people in this age bracket.

People is this age group racked up 100,000 emergency hospital visits each year due to water and snow sports, and playground-related injuries resulted in 137,000 emergency visits each year. The data were taken from the 1997 and 1998 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

"Protecting our children from injuries is the key," says CDC Director Jeffrey P. Koplan, MD, MPH, in a written statement. "Helmets, the right equipment, better safety practices, and instruction can all help reduce these preventable and oftentimes serious injuries. Participation in sports and recreation games and activities should lead to better health and greater physical fitness, not a visit to the emergency department."

"We emphasize not pressuring kids to specialize too early," says Jim Thompson, founder and director of the Positive Coaching Alliance, a nonprofit group based at the Stanford University Department of Athletics. "A lot of injuries result because such kids use the same muscles over and over again, and the resulting repetitive stress injuries may be responsible for emergency room visits."

However, he says, kids who participate in different sports during the different seasons "tend not to burn out as quickly, and it keeps kids excited about the sport."

The pressure to specialize also fosters the 'win at all costs' mentality, says Thompson, also the author of Positive Coaching: Building Character and Self-Esteem Through Sports.

This focus on winning has resulted in a rise in youth sports violence and parental violence at youth sporting events -- all of which can increase the rate of sports-related injuries and hospital visits.

"When parents are on the sidelines and see their child's team not doing well, they look for a scapegoat like a referee, a coach, or the other team. This misguided sense of 'I have to protect my kid so he or she wins' can make parents engage in negative ways with other parents, coaches, and officials," he tells WebMD. The result? Chaos.

Thompson tries to teach children and their parents to "honor the game" with such activities as a "Positive Play Day" to kick off a sports season. During this day, kids and adults pledge to respect the rules, opponents, officials, teammates, and traditions of the game.

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