Are High School Sports Too Dangerous?

Get this: A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Pietro Tornino, a sports medicine physician at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois, came out and straight-up suggested that parents not let their teens play football because of the high risk of injury. Pretty bold, right? But whether or not you even consider heeding his advice, now is the perfect time to talk about the safety of high school sports. More teens are playing than ever, and more teens are getting hurt—plain and simple.

Alexa Miller/Getty Images Alexa Miller/Getty Images

In “Playing Through the Pain” in the September issue of Choices, we take a deep dive into the warrior culture in high school athletics. The story is a must-read for parents, teachers, coaches, and kids alike. It can help you understand the extreme pressure teens feel to perform at all costs, and what that “no pain, no gain” mentality can mean for their still-developing joints, brains, and bones. On the flip side, our article can also teach young athletes the basics of protecting and respecting their bodies so that they can recognize when they might need to take a seat on the sidelines. (The truth is, a simple time-out could save their athletic careers— or even their lives.)

We also want to share some sports safety tips from Michael Bergeron, executive director of the National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute. As summer training camps for fall sports kick into high gear this week and next, his injury-prevention advice is extra important.

High School Sports Safety Checklist

Check gear. As we all know, teens are still growing. Fast. So preseason, they need to make sure all of their protective equipment, like mouth guards, shin guards, knee pads, and helmets, are comfortable—and not limiting their movement, says Bergeron. (And tell them not to get lax about wearing gear at practice. They need to keep it all on. Statistics show that injuries are just as likely to happen during drills as they are in a competition)

Stay hydrated. No news flash here: Sweating can lead to dehydration, especially in oppressive heat. So teens need to take every opportunity to drink up before and during their sports season—that means guzzling water before school, at lunch, after school, and every 10 to 20 minutes during practice or a game.

Rest up. Research shows that teen athletes who sleep eight hours or more a night are 68 percent less likely to get injured than those who sleep fewer hours. What’s the connection? For one, the body uses sleep to repair itself from all the physical strains of the day—plus it makes us more alert on the field (think: better reflexes when that ball comes flying our way).

Warm up. Before practice or a game, teens should jog and slowly go through certain movements used in their specific sport (shoot a basketball, kick a ball, etc.) to get the blood flowing. This preparation loosens muscles and helps them be ready to handle the strains of exercise, Bergeron says.

Did you read the warrior culture story? What do you think?