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Kids Sports Injury Crisis?

Kids playing soccer

Our Kiwi cousins have just released a mind-blowing report* showing an alarming rise in sports injury rates among children. The number of injuries in children up to 14 years old has skyrocketed by 60% over the last 2 years. If we play the blame game, who is responsible? I have a few theories……

  1. Exposure. Every type of physical activity has a baseline risk, usually expressed in injuries per 1000 hours of participation. When I was a kid I reckon I would be lucky to do 3-5 hours of organised sport a week and I was a very sporty hyperactive boy. Now, many kids we see have done that by Tuesday every week. Instead of 1000 hours taking me 4 footy seasons now it’s done in less than half that by sporty kids these days. It’s just stats, do more, then get inured more
  2. Doing too much: as Physios, we see a lot of kids who are obviously good at sport. They play one or two sports all year round, play club, reps, school, then school district, regional, then sign up for an academy or development squad. They play or train for multiple sports and have at least one organised session every day, often doing double sessions. They are not allowing time for recovery, let alone growth and development. They get injuries like stress fractures, Osgood-Schlatter’s and Sever’s disease. They are just doing too much high level sport with not enough recovery. This is a much bigger cause of injury in my opinion than kids sitting on computers and not being “physically literate”
  3. Early Specialisation. Certain sports are terrible for this (Rep Soccer I’m looking at you!) Kids are signed up for horrendously overpriced “development squads” or rep teams from a very early age. They are trained 2-3 times a week, then pressured into paying for extra squad sessions. They are forbidden from playing other sports. There is zero evidence that early specialisation by locking your kid into so called “elite” pathways in primary school will lead to elite performance as an adult. Most kids will burn out and quit before they finish high school. Letting your child experiment with different sports and skills and meet new kids is a far better way to go.

So who is to blame?

Parents, maybe it’s you. Do you cave in and say “yes” to every sporting opportunity your active kid asks about? Do you push your kid to do more sport than they really want to? Do you spend hours and hours in the car before and after school and all weekend going to training, carnivals, tournaments, trials and games. Do you have no time to just veg out at home during the week? Then maybe you can say “NO” and let your sports star have at least one day off a week where they play in the street with their mates, muck around in the local creek or do some homework. Total up the number of organised sports hours your child is doing, if the total is more than their age, it’s suggested they are overdoing things.

Coaches, maybe it’s you? Doing “fitness” training for 10 year old kids may not be the best use of your limited training time. Training technical ability, tactical awareness or game situations may be more fun and more valuable than running doggies or hill sprints in kids who are already overtrained.

Physios, maybe it’s us. Maybe we need to be more active in speaking out and highlighting to parents when their child is doing more training in a week than an NRL player. Maybe we need to be getting out to grassroots clubs and sharing the great injury minimisation programs like for the major team sports that have been developed. Or maybe be more active getting this message out via blogs and social media.

Kids playing soccer


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* NZ Herald Article