Why did I focus on this Issue?
Athletics has always been a significant part of my life since I was little. Having experienced soccer, tennis, golf, squash, and skiing, some at a youth and some at a national level, I have experienced the advantages and the underlying tradeoffs that occur with playing sports. I have always felt that playing sports is one of the best things someone could ever do, considering its physical, mental, and academic benefits. Although, after suffering a horrific broken leg during a soccer match, my mentality shifted significantly. It made me realize the dangers of injuries and the vast impact on people, especially children. Following the injury, I was forced to miss months of school and practice and go through grueling pain and rehabilitation months. While the break has healed, I still experience pain, have permanent nerve damage, and have an increased risk of another break. With this experience in mind, I decided to assess the importance and advantages of having an athletic lifestyle, the possible tradeoffs that could occur, and a possible proposal to change how youth sports are organized to ensure that no other athlete must go through something as I did.
What is the current situation in the US?
Obesity is a rising issue in the United States. The obesity rate in children doubled in the past 25 years and continues to affect over ⅓ of children by third grade. Obesity at a young age can hold a variety of health risks such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, and breathing problems. Childhood obesity is also known to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and cancer. While there are many common causes for childhood obesity, the reason that has proven to show the most significant impact is the increase of bad lifestyle choices. With a rise in the use of technology, many children are not getting enough physical activity and spending too much time on screens. According to Charlette A. Pratt, researcher of the AHAOC, she states “Smartphones, tablets, TVs, and other screen-based devices are making kids more sedentary – and sedentary behavior is tied to overweight and obesity in young people.”
This change is apparent in a report by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). While there is a slight increase in sport participation from 2016 to 2018, there is a noticeable decrease in sports participation in the last few years.
To better grasp the severity of the situation, Only 5% of youth ages 5 to 18 reported meeting the federally recommended amount of exercise of 60 minutes per day, and over 60% of American children had inadequate levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, putting them at increased risk of chronic diseases at younger ages.
How can having an athletic lifestyle benefit children?
The advantages can be classified into the following three categories: physical health benefits, mental health benefits, and improvement in academic performance.
First are the physical benefits. Regular physical activity in children can aid in development greatly by helping make stronger bones, muscles, and joints and also helps reduce fat. Physical activity has also been shown to improve blood circulation. The increased load put on the heart during physical activity can strengthen the muscles around the heart and improve the heart’s blood flow, reducing stress and increase white blood cells, thus strengthening the immune system.
Next are the mental health benefits. Taking part in sports has been shown to help improve the mental health of children. Social interaction is essential for success, especially in team sports, and skills such as leadership and goal-setting have proven to enhance self-esteem and confidence in children. In fact, a 2019 study found that children who did not participate in sports had twice the chance of developing mental health problems.
Lastly are the educational benefits of sports. Quick decision-making and strategy-making abilities have a significant impact on the development of cognitive skills for children, in addition to academic behavior and concentration.
This study by University of Illinois professor Dr. Chuck Hillman shows the brain activity of 20 students during a test before and after a 20-minute walk. As you can see, after 20 minutes of walking, the brain shows significant brain activity compared to before.
What are the possible tradeoffs from playing sports?
Now that I have identified the advantages of playing sports, it may sound like children engaging in sports may be beneficial. Although, as I mentioned before, a very dangerous trade-off is resulting from sports are the possible injuries.
More than 3.5 million children under the age of 14 receive medical treatment for sports annually, and getting hurt was also the No.2 reason children said that they do not play sports. While most injuries sustained in sports are nonlethal, many injuries such as joint, ligament, and head injuries could have lasting effects. There have been numerous reports of children becoming disabled, having long-lasting pain, and also have physical difficulties in the future. This poses a problem, especially in children, because children have long lives to live, and a single injury could change the course of their future forever.
What can be done to combat injuries?
What amazed me the most was that more than half of all sports injuries are preventable. Numerous countermeasures can be taken, such as stretching, ligament training, and also muscle training. However, due to the lack of education and enforcement of such prevention techniques, children are left entirely vulnerable to injuries. I was also unaware of the importance of injury prevention and believe that children who participate in sports should be aware of the importance and dangers of injuries.
The responsibility lies with the organizers of youth athletics as well.
Changing rules of youth sports has been a rising debate among organizers as a solution to the high injury rates and the low participation rates among children. Rule changing has always been seen to ignite negative responses from game traditionalists, who believe in the game’s natural flow. Although considering the success of changes in the past, it is hard to accept the change.
US Youth Soccer decided to ban heading in youth divisions to avoid concussion injuries. US Hockey also followed a similar path, but with stricter enforcement, banning body checking, and eliminating the national championships under 14.
Applying similar methods for other sports such as Rugby, Football and Lacrosse could help avoid avoidable injuries and improve sports participation and ultimately also be a solution to the bad lifestyle and obesity children in the US face.