As we all prepare for another school year, SafeKids Oregon, an organization that regular readers will know I admire and support, is distributing an important report that is worth every parent’s attention. “Changing the Culture of Youth Sports” (see link below) offers essential information and perspective on injuries to children here in Oregon and elsewhere. The report is distributed by the umbrella organization SafeKids Worldwide. A summary can be found on the SafeKids Oregon homepage.
Among the report’s key findings are the disturbing fact that “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’ from an opponent.” Among the report’s other key findings: “that athletes hide injuries to stay in the game” and that parents often try to get coaches to let their injured children participate in sports.
On one level none of this should be particularly surprising. From Hollywood’s images of sports in movies and TV shows to the sports broadcasts that can be found on television every night, sports culture celebrates toughness, ‘playing through the pain’ and a give-no-quarter attitude. Earlier this summer during the World Cup soccer tournament one player was celebrated for remaining in a game despite suffering a hard kick to the head – and despite the fact that TV viewers around the world could see that he was visibly woozy.
It is one thing for highly-paid professionals to insist on playing through an injury. Doing so may be unwise but professionals know the game better than the rest of us and they are, after all, adults. It is another thing entirely for a child to do so, and it is simply irresponsible for the adults running a game to allow, let alone encourage, that kind of behavior.
As a Portland personal injury attorney with a particular interest in helping prevent injuries to children I recommend that every parent of a young athlete look closely at the SafeKids report and talk to their children’s coaches about the “culture-changing strategies” the organization recommends. These include setting clear ground rules before a season gets started and emphasizing education for the athletes themselves about potential injuries and the best ways to avoid them. Most importantly, however, the recommended strategies call on parents and coaches to “encourage athletes to speak up when they’re injured. Remove injured athletes from play” and to “put an end to dirty play and rule-breaking.” Sports can be an excellent way for children to keep fit while learning lessons like teamwork – but only if the adults in charge teach the right lessons to begin with.
SafeKids Worldwide: The Changing Culture of Youth Sports