Youth Sports Are Risky

Injuries Abound in Kids' Football, Baseball Leagues

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 11, 2002 -- Playing in a community football or baseball league is a rite of passage for many children, but a new study shows that young athletes face serious injury risks. And researchers say youth sports leagues should be better prepared to deal with these dangers.

According to researchers, 20-30 million kids aged 5-17 participate in community-sponsored athletic programs each year in the U.S. And the number of sports-related injuries reported among this age group has grown, as more and more children take up the activities.

In the study, published in the September issue of Pediatrics, researchers looked at the total number of injuries reported during two seasons of play among close to 1,700 children aged 7-13 who participated in community organized baseball, softball, soccer, and football leagues.

Researchers found injury rates in the leagues ranged from 1.0 to 2.1 injuries per 100 games and practices. Across all sports, bruises were the most common injury, although sprains, fractures, and concussions were also frequent. Contact with equipment was reported most frequently as the cause of injury, except in football where contact with another player was the most common cause.

Although the injury rates for baseball and football were not significantly different, the researchers say football poses the biggest risk because 14% of the reported injuries were considered serious compared with 3% in baseball. In addition, the researchers say football-related injuries may have been underreported in this study due to recording problems cited by coaches.

The researchers also found that injury rates were consistently higher in practices than in games for all sports except softball, which had more, although not significantly more, game-related injuries.

Experts say children are vulnerable to different types of injuries than adults. For example, seemingly minor injuries affecting the joints and cartilage may actually cause permanent damage as the child ages by altering bone growth if left untreated.

Other findings of the study include:

  • Children aged 8-10 were injured more frequently than older children aged 11-13 or younger children aged 5-7.
  • The frequency of injury per team per season (a measure of injury risk) was four to seven times higher in football than in other sports. Researchers say this was expected because football is a collision sport.
  • Being hit by a pitched, thrown, or batted ball was the most common cause of injury in baseball. Injuries to the legs and feet were the most commonly reported injuries among soccer players.

In light of these findings, researcher Marirose A. Radelet, MS, of the Neuromuscular Research Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues, say youth sports leagues should provide and require first-aid training for coaches.

In addition, the leagues should have clear, enforceable rules about when an injured player is allowed to return to play. Finally, they suggest that baseball and softball leagues consider placing face guards on batting helmets.