The positive benefits of participation in sports at an early age are well documented. Some of these benefits include greater self-confidence and self-esteem, healthier lifestyle choices that include eating more fruits and vegetables, a lower risk of becoming overweight, greater strength, greater bone density, exposure to positive role models, making friends more easily and higher graduation rates among others.

At the same time, as participation in sports increases at all age levels, so does the incidence of sports-related injuries. The statistics are startling. More than 3.5 million kids under age 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year. And, according to the CDC, more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable.

This growing epidemic of preventable youth sports injuries is leading to a serious issue of unraveling the athletic hopes and dreams of many children. STOP Sports Injuries (Sports Overuse and Trauma Prevention) is a public outreach program created specifically to focus on the importance of safety, as the website states, “specifically relating to overuse and trauma issues.” In addition, the site states, “The initiative not only raises awareness and provides education on injury reduction, but also highlights how playing safe and smart can enhance and extend a child’s athletic career, improve teamwork, reduce obesity rates and create a lifelong love of exercise and healthy activity. Our message underscores the problems of overuse and trauma and emphasizes the expertise of our coalition of experts.” (http://www.stopsportsinjuries.org/about.aspx)

The website provides a rich resource for parents, coaches, the athletes themselves, and anyone else involved in the community that can help encourage safety and prevent injuries. Every single sport is covered from baseball to wrestling, cheerleading to volleyball, basketball to soccer, and football to golf and gymnastics to lacrosse. If it is something your child is involved in, you can rest assured there is information available to help promote safety from experts in each sport.

Cheerleading has changed dramatically over the years and today’s cheerleaders are rigorous athletes combining the skills of dance and gymnastics. According to the STOP website, “In 2002, an estimated 3.5 million people in the United States participated as cheerleaders, from six-year-olds to adults who cheerlead for professional athletic teams.” (http://www.stopsportsinjuries.org/cheerleading-injury-prevention.aspx)

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in 2002, the latest year for cheerleading injury data, there were 16,000 emergency room visits reported associated with cheerleading related injuries. The fact is, while cheerleading doesn’t result in injuries as frequently as other sports, the injuries tend to be “more severe, making up more than half of the catastrophic injuries in female athletes.” Cheerleading injuries affect all areas of the body — most commonly the wrists, shoulders, ankles, head, and neck.

Every parent likes to cheer their kids on in the sports and athletic activities they are engaged in. It’s exciting to see kids growing through sports, striving to be better, and working hard to improve their skills. It’s inspiring to watch their interest blossom into a passion. But, it’s heartbreaking to see them overwork to the point of exhaustion and injury perhaps risking their long-term health and wellbeing, not to mention their dreams.

Take advantage of the information available on the STOP Sports Injuries website. Encourage your children to watch for the signs of overuse. Be smart. Be safe. And play for life!

 

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