This commentary was written by occupational science students at Eastern Kentucky University: Cassie Jones, Ashley Brown, Kate Duncan, Caitlyn Bowman, Cody Hecker and Wes Bill.
The recent article about prospective Kentucky High School Athletic Association regulations on participation in middle-school sports for students who have been held back brings attention to a greater issue: the pressure for students to excel in sports.
This pressure has not only led parents to hold their children back, but may also contribute to increasingly detrimental and troubling sports injuries in student athletes.
Sport injury is the leading cause of injuries requiring medical attention and presentation to emergency departments among adolescents; as many as 2.9 million youth experience medically attended sports injuries annually in the United States.
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While Kentucky schools are making progress toward injury prevention and education, parents still have a bigger role to play in this issue.
Children are risk takers and do not have the brain development needed to make sound judgments about the severity of their injuries. Yet too often, the choice to play through an injury falls on the student-athlete.
Do the parents have safety as a primary focus of sports? Are they informed enough to know when their children should and should not be playing? Too often, the answer to these questions is no.
Parents can ensure child safety by recognizing some unhealthful trends in children and adolescent sport participation. Sports have obvious benefits. They keep people physically active in a way that can be fun and personally gratifying.
However, kids' sports are increasingly becoming less about fun or finding a new interest and more about working toward a long-term commitment.
Children who are not fully physically developed and who overplay one sport are at an increased risk of injuries that can have long-term consequences. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm some parents feel for their children's athletic participation may put unintended pressure on their children to play through injuries. As the article noted, parents will often go to great lengths to ensure that their kids are able to excel in sports, often with college scholarships or professional careers in mind.
A child who does well in sports can bring feelings of pride and accomplishment to his or her family. However, when that pride becomes the focus of sports participation, undue pressure can be placed on the child to perform beyond his or her level of capability.
Some research suggests that kids are more successful in sports when they are motivated by a personal desire to succeed or have fun. In contrast, kids who feel pressure to excel from parents or coaches may burn out more quickly, experience lower self-esteem and have an unhealthy obsession with winning.
Taking these factors into consideration, it is evident that parents are in a unique position to recognize and take action when their child's safety is at risk. While ensuring safety in sports is a collaborative effort, coaches are responsible for so many athletes that it may be easy for them to overlook the safety needs of one. Children are generally not capable of speaking up and making decisions regarding their own safety.
Parents can take action by gaining information on the credentials and experience of the coaches, ensuring facilities are safe and up to date, and having an emergency plan for handling injuries. Also, parents must make certain their children are conditioned before beginning practice for a sport and also ensure the athlete knows it is important not to play through pain.
By seeking to act and make decisions in the best interest of their children, parents can positively impact the lives and well-being of student-athletes.