Youth Team Sports: How Dangerous Are They?

Stewart L. Cohen, Esq.

Jun 29, 2023

While youth team sports have seen a slight downward participation trend in recent years, The Aspen Institute’s Project Play reports that the majority of children ages 6–17 still play some form of youth sports, either through their schools, city or township recreational leagues, private organizations, or trainers. Regardless of who sponsors the sport, there are various benefits and risks associated with each activity. And while many factors may influence a child’s desire — or a parent’s permission — to play a certain school sport, no consideration should be weighed more heavily than how dangerous that sport is.

Dangerousness is determined by the rate of injury per athletic exposure, and injuries may include but are not limited to sprains, strains, soft tissue injuries, concussions, fractured bones, and in the most severe of cases, fatal injuries.

Let’s take a look at the top three most dangerous youth team sports and their related rates of injury.

Football — Football is widely considered the most dangerous youth team sport — and for good reason. According to an article published by Vox, the rate of injury in high school football is 4.01*. Research published by PBS states that high school football players are even more at risk of sustaining a concussion than college-level football players. To be sure, one study estimated that high school football players suffer 11.2 concussions for every 10,000 games and practices, compared to a rate of 6.3 among college players. The study’s authors stated that these estimates are conservative, as many concussions go unreported.

Boys’ & Girls’ Soccer — Soccer is considered less dangerous than football, with an injury rate of 2.46* for girls and 1.69* for boys. However, it is still considered a risky sport for the player’s entire body, as it leads to a wide variety of sprains, strains, tendonitis, and concussions. According to a Fox News article, in 2012 alone, there were 99,068 emergency room visits for soccer-related injuries — a 19.8 percent increase over five years prior.

Boys’ Ice Hockey —  Vox ranks boys’ ice hockey as the third most-dangerous sport, with an injury rate of 2.34*. While players wear protective gear, including helmets and padding, the sport still poses the risk of numerous injuries, including sprains, strains, broken bones, and head injuries. Especially controversial is whether or not players should be allowed to check opponents, which involves body slamming.

*Injury rates are calculated based on 1,000 athletic exposures.

The Long-Term Outlook on Sports Injuries

While the soft tissue injuries and broken bones commonly sustained in youth sports are certainly serious, painful, and may affect a player’s range of motion or physical ability for years to come, brain injuries are a much larger concern.

The more research that is published about traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and concussions, the more that is revealed about their devastating long-term effects, particularly when the trauma is repetitive, and ample time is not provided for concussion recovery. Even concussions that are classified as “minor” do not always heal completely, and a child (or adult) who sustains multiple concussions is at a much higher risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This disease, which is a progressive degenerative disease, leads to the deterioration of the brain and is characterized by cognitive impairment, impulsive behavior, aggression, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, memory loss, dementia, confusion, speech and language difficulties, motor impairment, vision problems, and more.

The bottom line? All of the safety equipment in the world isn’t enough to prevent TBIs and other serious injuries, particularly when the sport involves head contact. The only sure way to eliminate the risk altogether is to simply not play the sport.

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