Preventing injuries should be a primary concern of any parent and coach involved with youth sports. Participating in sports, particularly at an early age, provides many health related benefits (as has been discussed in previous posts). Many children though, do not play sports because of the increased risk of injury/previous injuries. Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce the risk of injuries in youth sports.
Better coaching: studies have shown that coaches who have received education and training in proper technique, conditioning, and safety have significantly fewer injuries among their players. Most sports injuries are due to the use of improper technique (examples: throwing, tackling) or inadequate conditioning.
Cross-training: young athletes benefit from playing a variety of sports. It is not good for the growing body to be subjected to the demands of one sport year round. Playing different sports allows for the development of a variety of skills, and most importantly, reduces the risk of over-training injuries (including burnout).
Safe playing fields: most communities lack adequate facilities for youth sports. Many children play on asphalt or poorly maintained fields. The best surfaces are smooth, level and free of obstacles (holes, trash, rocks, etc.). Grass is much safer than artificial turf, as are wood floors vs. asphalt/composite.
Physical conditioning: the most important step an individual can take to reduce sports related injuries is to improve their strength, flexibility and endurance. Young athletes commonly lack core strength and flexibility. I strongly encourage athletes to lift weights—the stronger a person is, the less likely they are to sustain a sports related injury (among many other benefits). Young growing bodies tend to have poor flexibility, even if they are active, due to growth spurts (muscles need to be stretched in order to keep up with bone growth). Endurance is important because the risk of injury increases dramatically as fatigue increases.
Most youth sports injuries are highly preventable, yet across the country, youth sports injuries are increasing. Awareness is the key.