Youth Sports: Benefits, Risk, and Intervention

Written by: Mark Stonerock, AT, ATC
Sports Medicine Outreach Coordinator, UP Health System – Marquette
President, Michigan Athletic Trainers Society

March is National Athletic Training Month, a time to spread awareness about the important work of Athletic Trainers. UP Health System is proud to provide Athletic Training services, especially for our area’s youth sports programs.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, youth sports have been modified to keep players and their families safe. Although these changes have been difficult to adjust to at times, protecting our youth remains paramount. There is no doubt that youth sports provide a significant benefit to the athletes and the community overall.

The Upsides

Students between the ages of 5 – 19 who participate in sports will “stack the deck” in their favor in many ways, enriching their lives now and years into the future. According to the National Athletic Trainers Association, multiple studies across the country support that youth involvement in sports leads to better grades and a higher likelihood of college attendance. Student-athletes are also less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, like using substances, alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and carrying weapons.

Youth sports also build life skills beyond the game, with research suggesting that student-athletes develop a closer sense of family, volunteer more frequently, and have stronger peer-to-peer relationships.

The health benefits over a lifetime are consistently documented and include decreased obesity, less heart disease, and lower rates of stroke and cancer. All of this adds up to decreased health care costs.

The Downsides

Although the benefits of youth participation in sports are many, every argument has two sides. Participation in youth sports is not excluded. From concussions to broken bones, sport generally carries an inherent risk of injury.

According to the CDC, there are an estimated 2.6 million annual emergency room visits for athletes age 19 and younger. In the United States, that amounts to an emergency room visit every 5 seconds. Even more concerning, the secondary school athletic population leads the nation in “athletic-related deaths,” with more than 300 fatalities occurring between 2008 – 2015. In fact, sudden cardiac arrest remains the leading cause of death in young athletes.

Certain teen lifestyles and peer pressure can also influence athletic performance and safety. 54% of athletes admit to playing while injured for fear of “letting their team down,” especially during an important game. Studies show that as many as two-thirds of athletes show up for practices significantly dehydrated.

The Solution: Promoting Safety and Preventing Injury

These statistics are concerning and not every injury is completely preventable, but there are ways to prepare and educate student-athletes to accommodate for many risks. Emphasizing proper technique during practice is a great start.

Another preventative measure is having a Certified Athletic Trainer on-site. This allows for an immediate response if an injury or life-threatening situation does arise. With a trained healthcare professional onsite, the survival rate for a sudden cardiac arrest is more than 80%, as opposed to 10% without immediate intervention. The American Academy of Pediatrics has shown that the presence of an athletic trainer, results in lower injury rates, improved diagnosis and return-to-play decisions for injuries such as concussions, and fewer recurrent injuries. Despite this, only 37% of public high schools have a full-time Athletic Trainer.

In Michigan, Athletic Trainers are college-educated, certified, and licensed healthcare professionals. They are trained in injury prevention, examination, assessment, and rehabilitation. They follow strict rules and regulations by the State to provide all care, including emergency care for illnesses like concussions, cardiac arrests, spine injuries, heatstroke, allergic reactions, and musculoskeletal trauma.

About Sports Medicine at UP Health System

UP Health System is proud to provide Certified Athletic Training services to several area schools, clubs, and events. Our team of experienced Athletic Trainers has been caring for the area’s athletes during games, practices, camps, and summer sports leagues for more than thirty years. Certified Athletic Trainers work alongside coaches, physicians, parents, and school administration, to provide the safest environment for student-athletes.

Athletic Trainers also provide free injury screens — such as pre-concussion testing — for community athletes of all types, year-round. UP Health System’s athletic trainers are dedicated and compassionate, working hard to provide exemplary care when they are needed most.

Mark Stonerock, AT, ATC.

The COVID-19 pandemic will no doubt continue to affect youth sports, but one constant remains true: local athletes and their families can continue to count on the Certified Athletic Trainers and staff at UP Health System for treatment, guidance, and care. The health and safety of our youth remain our top priority.

For more information on athletic training services at UP Health System, visit www.MGH.org and for further information on UP Health System | Rehab Services or to make an appointment online, visit www.UPRehab.com

Mark Stonerock has been an Athletic Trainer for 35 years. He is currently the President of the Michigan Athletic Trainers Society and is the Sports Medicine Outreach Coordinator for UP Health System – Marquette.

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