Over use or abuse: Are youth athletes being pushed too far?

If one in five children are going to the ER for treatment related to sport injuries, the question must be asked (Healy 2013). Are we pushing our youngest athletes too far?

In general, it is important for kids to stay active and play, but if it means putting their health at risk it may be time to rethink how we as a society organize youth sports. Many children starting at six are tracked into one sport or another based on preference, size, and/or ability. Not only does this tracking create specialization, but it can also lead to overuse problems and risk of serious injuries.

In total, there is an estimated 45 million children participating in scholastic and community organized youth sport programs in the United States (Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine 2014). Just because of the shear numbers, it is not surprising that the rates of youth sport injuries are so high. Some of the most common injuries include: sprains, fractures, contusions, and concussions. These types of injuries are seen in youth athletes because of a number of factors such as sport specialization, imbalance of strength or joint range of motion, anatomic misalignment, improper footwear, pre-existing conditions, growth cartilage, and intense, repetitive training during grown periods (Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine 2014).

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Interestingly enough, the easiest way to prevent as well as treat any of these injuries is time.

Especially for children, even though their bodies usually heal quickly, there is no reason for why they shouldn’t be able to take the time to rest their bodies. According to the Nationwide Children’s Foundation the best way to treat a child’s injury is with the RICE method of Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (2014). In addition, it is important not to let them get back into full participation until they are completely with out pain.

So what sports are these children are playing? Could limiting the age of participation for specific sports solve this problem?

The sports that seem to cause the most injuries in young children are football, basketball, soccer, and baseball (Healy 2013). Unfortunately, these are also the most popular sports in the United States, so I don’t see them going away or limiting the age of participation any time soon. There is, however, a possibility of limiting specialization.

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It has been noted by a number of researchers that youth participation in specialized sports programs increases with the wealth of individual families (Toporek 2014). As seen in the urbanization of soccer, middle class families are becoming more and more involved in organized youth athletics. In doing so, many parents tend to urge their children into mastering one single sport (Andrews, 1999).

Keeping this research in mind, it has also been found that higher-income families are 68 percent more likely than lower-income families to experience a sport-related injury (Toporek 2014). This can be contributed to the increase in volume of training time that is expected in order to be apart of a single competitive sport. In addition, the wealthier a family is, the more money they have to spend on their children to participate in organized sport programs. In general, competitive sport programs are very expensive and consist of hard work, repetitive actions and very little recovery time to prevent injuries; which may explain this increase in injuries for wealthier youth athletes.

So what’s the counter argument? In the United States athletics is extremely valued. There is a lot of pride that goes into participating in sports as well as being an “athletic supporter.” For this reason, why shouldn’t we start our children young and have them specialize in playing a specific sport? If they can do this early on, then they can become the “best,” get recognized in high school, maybe receive a scholarship for college, and even play professionally!

Although though this plan sounds enticing, I can’t help to think of the long-term injuries that may happen. Think of all the un-reported concussions that occur in football from kids being told that winning the game is more important then their “minor” injury (Go Tigers, movie). What will that do to these young children’s futures? Plus! Think about the knee injuries in female soccer players, and shoulder injuries in sports like swimming and baseball. All of these sports are notorious for serious injures, and it is concerning to think that in possibly 20 to 30 years these children will have early onset arthritis and other problems that are completely preventable from just taking time off to heal properly.

So what can we do about it?

Some research has recently come out that says that although physical activity is instrumental in normal child development, it is actually better for children to spend more time in unstructured free play than organized youth sports (Toporek 2014). In fact, children should spend more than two-times as much time in free-play than organized activities, like sports. With this data, it might finally be time to consider an official time-out from super competitive and time-consuming youth sports, and give these kiddos some rest.

 

References:

http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?DISPATCHED=true&cid=25983841&item=http%3A%2F%2Fblogs.edweek.org%2Fedweek%2Fschooled_in_sports%2F2014%2F04%2Fhigher-income_youth-athletes_found_more_likely_to_suffer_overuse_injuries.html

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/08/06/injuries-athletes-kids-sports/2612429/

http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/kids-sports-injuries-numbers-are-impressive

David L. Andrews (1999): Contextualizing suburban soccer: Consumer culture, lifestyle differentiation and suburban America, Culture, Sport, Society, 2:3, 31-53

 

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Winning the Game, But Not Able to Read The Play Book

Can you imagine, getting accepted to college as a student-athlete, maybe you’re the first in your family; and then being a handed a four-year life plan without anyone asking for your option? For many NCAA DI student-athletes this is a reality.  “School” consists of no class, no lectures, and no finals. Their school schedules are outlined before they set foot on campus, and are expected to follow the “plan” in order to stay in school and succeed in their college athletic career.

Unfortunately, many of these pre-picked classes contain no academic rigor.  Mary Willingham, a University of North Carolina (UNC) learning specialist, points out that most of the classes taken by athletes are considered  “historically passable” or no-show classes. They are easy to get a passing grade in and help boost the students GPA in order to keep them playing their sport. This seems, at least in the most recent new buzz, to be an especially popular academic plan for football and men’s basketball student-athletes.

An athlete taking easy courses and majors, however, this isn’t a new concept in the world of college athletics. The stereotype of the “dumb” athlete has been perpetuated through mass media, movies, and high schools across the nation for decades. The difference now is that there are expectations for athletes to meet specific academic requirements in order to play college ball. These expectations are not only set by the NCAA, but supposedly enforced by them as well.

But what if I told you that 10% of college student-athletes were “functionally illiterate?” In a court statement, Willingham describes the research and says that in addition to this student population, out of the 182 students screened another 60% were between a fourth-to-eighth grade reading level. That’s 70% that does not come even close to meeting college academic standards!

How could the system let these students get so far without help? Is the Football Lobby, so large and so powerful that it makes playing a game more important than an education? We talked about in class how the football lobby continues to be a driving force in gender inequality in American sport; as well as how they have labeled themselves as “the” revenue generating sport for most athletic departments. Even with contradicting data, there is still a push for football programs to have the largest budget and athlete population. However, what if by creating this empire, football is also hurting their own players? As seen from the previous statistics the population of student-athletes actually meeting college-level academic standards, or even taking the appropriate class is quite low. Athletic departments are able to push them in school because of their talent, even when some technically don’t have the academic ability to even start college level school work, because they are so far behind. In sum, what the football lobby has done is create an avenue for “great” athletes to play in an academic athletic league without the necessary requirements. Unfortunately, by creating this loophole, these athletes will not be prepared for the next step. After college, they will know how to play football, but if they don’t go straight into the NFL, they won’t have the necessary skills or academic knowledge to work in jobs appropriate for earning a bachelor’s degrees.

Mike McAdoo, a former UNC football player, has come out about this issue. He says that on the first day of his freshman year  he was told his major, African American Studies, and the language he would be studying, Swahili. He said for many of his classes, he didn’t even need to show up. They were called “independent study” courses, and he was only expected to write a 20-page paper, due at the end of the term. For the paper, McAdoo was able to pull from websites and books as long as the sources were cited.  Unfortunately, he was kicked off the football team because he had done improper work on the paper he turned in for a no-show class. The “improper work” turned out to be that he received help from a tutor on citing the information he took from the online and books that he used to write his papers. What is even more shocking was that his class was supposedly a no-show intermediate Swahili course… How does that even work?!

According to several sources, it is not uncommon for many of UNC football players major in African American Studies and take Swahili as their language requirement. McAdoo was told by his counselor to  pick classes that he didn’t have to spend much time thinking about. But in the end it didn’t matter, his counselor ended up picking the classes that he knew the athletes could pass would any problems. One of the biggest issues with this situation, is that many athletes decide to go to college to continue their athletic career to get an education, before going into the major leagues. However, if word spreads and athletes continue to not receive that education, what is stopping them from jumping into professional sports right out of high school? And if they do, what does this mean for the future of college athletics?

Sources:

NewsDay, HBO Real Sport.

http://www.newsday.com/sports/college/hbo-real-sports-ncaa-student-athletic-academic-reform-1.7490598

Jordan Weissmann.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/04/03/the_146_word_essay_that_got_a_unc_jock_an_a_here_s_the_real_story.html

Dan Kane

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/01/15/4615090/former-unc-player-ties-counselors.html#.U0OH7q1dXAV

Messner, Michael A. 2002. Taking the Field: Women, Men, and Sports. 1st ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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Could soccer be taking over as “America’s favorite past time”?

According to ESPNfc.com this could become our new reality. In a recent online article by Roger Bennett, Major League Soccer (MLS) is currently tied with Major League Baseball (MLB) at 18% popularity for children 12- to 17- year-olds. This may seem shocking, but this isn’t a new trend. ESPN and other sports analysts (SGMA) have been tracking soccer’s popularity in the United States for a while now, and have shown that there has been a steady increase in interest since the creation of MLS in 1996.

Although analysts have been following this trend, the cause of this increase in popularity is still murky. Luker on Trends who manages the poll by tracking 1,500 American’s per month and their interests in 31 different sports gave several suggestions for why the MLS is steadily increasing in popularity. To begin, Luker on Trends proposes that this increase is occurring because of the number of major celebrity pro-soccer players, like David Beckham, playing in the MLS, as well as the popularity of EA Sports’ FIFA (franchise). In addition, more soccer (e.g. MLS, English Premier League, NCAA) is being broadcasted on more widely available television stations. This coverage, helps increase viewership not only in the United States but also worldwide. As people see more of the MLS around the world, they can recognize the talent, and adopt teams into their own fandom.

However, Luker on Trends failed to address the effects of the expansion of youth soccer in the United States on MLS popularity. In a 2011, a survey by SGMA found there are 14,075,000 people playing soccer in the United States, of those 71% are under the age of 25. This is a huge percent of the population that is moving into the prime age for sport media consumption.

This trigger is possibly due to the increase in youth playing soccer specifically from suburban towns across the United States. In the 2011 study by SGMA of the soccer participants, more than half had an average annual income of $25,000 -$99,999.  Making a majority of the players from a middle class socio-economic background.

What is particularly interesting about the suburban population attracted to playing soccer has adapted the sport from a simple game that includes a net and ball, to being a sport of status with in Suburban America. This rise began in the late 20th century, making youth soccer an entire a life style that incorporates the whole family, and produces its own sub-culture following. The sport of soccer for Suburban America has expanded not only industries specific to the game which includes equipment, but as also included athletic fashion, helps instills middle class values, morals, and expectations of excellence.

According to David L. Andrews, “Over the past two decades youth soccer has become embroiled in the suburban context to the extent that it contributes to the very constitution of this competitive ‘universe of practices and consumptions.’ Soccer’s socio-spatial distribution is at least partly attributable to its position as ‘an elective luxury’, only afforded by the not inconsiderable wealth of parents.”

The middle class parents’ ability to provide for their children in sports shows how invested and involved these parents are in their children’s lives. Many mothers specially are referred to as “soccer moms,” and dads are identified as the child’s individual or team coach. Therefore, it is not a surprising comparison to see, that with increased participation in youth soccer in the last couple of decades there is also an increase in fans, as parents come and watch their children play. For this reason, it shouldn’t be a coincidence that since the MLS was created in the late 1990’s, popularity has grown parallel to Suburban American soccer participation.

Finally, coming back to look at why MLS popularity is growing steadily in the adolescent population. The cause is not only just the increase in media exposure, but also one that includes the participants as well. These children that have grown up playing soccer and are fans because of their participation in a sport they enjoy and understand. In addition, they have inspired their parents generation to join in. This is probably why we are seeing this steady increase in interest of viewing professional soccer within the United State. Who knows, with the suburban population still steadily growing, it is possible that in are near future we will see the MLS become the number one American sport of summer.

 

Sources:

http://espnfc.com/news/story/_/id/1740529/mls-catches-mlb-popularity-kids-says-espn-poll?cc=5901

David L. Andrews (1999): Contextualizing suburban soccer: Consumer culture, lifestyle differentiation and suburban America, Culture, Sport, Society, 2:3, 31-53

SGMA Research / Sports Marketing Surveys: Single Sport Report – 2011 on Soccer (Outdoor)

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