Every year, nearly 30 million school age children participate in youth sports throughout the United States, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control this number is only increasing. Whether it is your elementary school child participating in youth soccer or t-ball for the first time or your high school athlete playing tacking football or being a member of the cheerleading team, every parent wants to ensure their child is safe from sports related injuries. While, it’s nearly impossible to keep your child from sustaining an injury during the many years spent playing youth sports, it is possible to keep your children from suffering from the almost 50% of youth sports related injuries that the CDC considers preventable.

One of the most common injuries suffered in youth sports is simply through overuse. This is particularly true among middle school and high school age children, who are attending multiple practices throughout the week and often several games on the weekend, doing the same repetitive motions over and over. Because overuse injuries can be more difficult to spot than acute ones, such as a broken arm, torn acl, etc., it is important to watch for signs of pain in your child that can signify an overuse injury. These signs may include pain when walking, favoring certain body parts, weakness, and inability to bear weight. If you notice something is off with your child, the best thing you can do to help avoid a serious injury is to have your child take a break to rest and heal. While most kids will not want to do this, continuing to play will only worsen the injury and lengthen the amount of time missed. As the parent, you must take charge and make decisions that may leave your child and even the coach upset, but remember that your child’s health and safety takes precedence over a missed practice or game.

While overuse may be one of the more common causes of injury, the majority of parents tend to be most concerned with their child suffering a concussion injury. Of course, when we think of concussions and the types of sports most likely to result in your child getting one, football is the first sport to come to mind. With more and more information coming out regarding the relatedness between playing football and suffering from long term brain diseases, many parents are voicing their legitimate concerns about whether youth football is safe for their children to play anymore. Similarly, these same parents may allow their children to play flag football, but not tackle until they are older, if even at all. In an effort to address these concerns, the Heads Up football program has been introduced to help teach player safety when playing and reduce the number of concussion injuries.

While the decision to allow your child to play youth football is solely a parental one, it is important to note that football is not the only youth sport that results in head injuries. Both soccer and basketball rank as the number 1 and number 2 highest risk sport for concussions for girls, with gymnastics on the rise. Youth sports is an excellent way for your children to exercise, stay healthy, be part of a team, and learn about competing and being a good sport and thus, the point is not to scare parents away from allowing their children to participate in youth sports, but to be aware of the risks involved and make an effort to learn the best ways to combat and reduce those risks.