4 Things Organizers and Coaches Can Do to Prevent Youth Sports Injuries
By Melissa Wickes
October 27, 2022
Maybe the only thing outpacing the rise in youth sports injuries is the freely given advice about preventing them. The problem is, none of it quite explains how, says Joe Janosky, director of sports safety at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), which is ranked the #1 hospital in the country for orthopedics by US News and World Report for the past eight years. And that leaves youth league organizers grasping elsewhere for direction.
“They know it’s their job to help children develop safely, but they simply don’t know how to do that,” says Joe, who has met with many a desperate youth sports professional. And so here are four concrete ways from Joe that, you know, can’t hurt.
Identify Injury Risk Factors Early and Often
If you’ve struggled to implement injury prevention strategies for your league, you’re not alone. The task is challenging to many youth sports leaders, most of whom have no experience in this area, Joe says. “Unlike athletic programs in schools, most sports leagues don’t have injury prevention experts on staff to help implement injury prevention programs for athletes.” This puts league organizers and administrators in the difficult position of finding resources that can effectively minimize injury risk for their players.
A great place to start is working with injury prevention experts to screen athletes for common injury risk factors. “We know that over 90% of parents are concerned with the safety of their children engaged in sports,” Joe says. “An organizer who offers injury prevention screenings for their members can help identify athletes who are at risk of injury and provide them with helpful resources before an injury occurs.”
Luckily, HSS offers free screenings for sports leagues around the country to help organizers operationalize a thoughtful and systematic response to injury prevention. “In just the past 10 months, we’ve screened several thousand young athletes from all over the U.S,” Joe says. “And we’ve found that injury risk factors are present in about 85% of the screenings tests we administer. Because of these concerning numbers, we are eager to help league organizers in their quest to minimize the risk of injury for their players.”
Coach Up Mom and Dad
“If you have parents who are super invested in their children’s lives,” Joe says. “Take advantage of that. Teach them to identify injury risk.”
They can be trained to notice their children’s improper movements when practicing at home, and to encourage risk-reducing ones. (Athletes, of course, can be trained to spot improper movement too.)
Organizers could consider hosting an injury prevention workshop for parents and coaches. “If you can create an army of parents that know what to look for, you’ve just created a huge resource for yourself and the collective risk of injury for all of those kids goes way down.”
If You Can’t Beat Specialization, Learn From it
If we’re going to be serious about trying to prevent injuries in our children, we are going to have to take a long, hard look at the increasingly common and ever-more-vilified practice of sport specialization. Mind you, Joe doesn’t prefer that players concentrate on only one sport or that leagues recruit such particularly focused players. But he thinks the more specialized the organization is, the greater its responsibility it has to fight against the potential for injuries with every tool available.
Consider the marathoner, who he holds up as the ultimate example of sport specialization. The best ones aren’t criticized because they don’t cross-train enough. Still, their regimens are carefully planned to create a competitor who is capable of staying the course—and staying on the course. Joe wants to see such thinking applied to other sports.
“Look at movement quality, make sure rest and recovery are emphasized and actively incorporated into training, making sure hydration, nutrition, and equipment like footwear are appropriate,” he says. “Anything that may contribute to injury must be addressed.”
For the full guide to protecting your athletes, download this free risk management guide.