The True Hidden Cost of Sports For Young Athletes
For the better part of the last decade, the concussion risks associated with playing football have been topics of national discussion. Former college and pro player Slade Norris thinks that dialogue has helped the game.
"It's impacted it in the best way possible," said Norris. "You know, everything we're doing. You know, the NFL is changing their rules, making small tweaks every single year thinking about player safety."
But experts and doctors say there are other injuries that need the attention of parents and players. Injuries that have potential life-long consequences, and some are preventable.
The physicians at Nationwide Children's say sports injuries are the 2nd leading cause of ER visit in children and teens. They say when you combine emergency and non-emergency visits, about seven million young people are getting checked out for sports injuries every year. They say many of these injuries are from overuse or intense specialization in one sport from an early age. That can lead to stress fractures, weak or inflamed joints and tendons and much more.
"I think that's just kind of the hidden cost of sports," said Chase Curtiss, the founder of SWAY Medical in Tulsa. "Continuing to do it over and over again and not having that support of, 'How do you develop the right way from a performance perspective?"
Curtiss said the SWAY app is used by school sports programs around the country. It can test brain function and balance, which is something Chase said is becoming increasingly relevant for today's young athletes.
"Because athletes are specializing in one sport and they do the same thing over and over again," said Curtiss . "So someone who might have weak hamstrings, you're going to see them lean forward more. And we can identify that just through the sensor."
When you ask Norris about preventing injuries, the 9-on-9 league he helps run, called NFX, focuses on solid fundamentals. They use soft helmets and pads, without tackling. So players can learn the game without the risk of getting hurt.
"We're teaching kids a 'hands first' approach to blocking. Every time they reach an opponent, it is a hands-first approach," said Norris.
"There's a lot of good coaches who teach you good techniques so you know here, and it will help you in your tackle football game too," said NFX player AJ Patton.
"I think parents, especially those who have had athletes who've had those serious injuries, know how much that affects their ability to continue to play in athletics and just the long-term orthopedic issues," said Curtiss.
Experts suggest many ways to prevent these type of overuse injuries, including limiting repetitive movements - pitch counts, in baseball, for example - making sure gear fits correctly, and teams investing in athletic trainers or a medical staff.