In recent years, overuse injuries have become more common among youth athletes. Along with that trend is a pattern of decreased participation in youth sports. That is all according to Dr. Frederick Azar, who came to speak at the first Dooley Society lecture before the home football game Saturday, Sept. 10.
Azar, chief of staff at the University of Tennessee-Campbell Clinic and professor of orthopedic surgery, spoke on the prevalence of injuries among young athletes and how to stem the problem. He shared some alarming statistics on youth injuries. According to Azar, high school athletes make up for two million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits, and 30,000 hospitalizations each year. He also said that the rate and severity of injuries increase as one ages, yet more than 50 percent of all sports-related injuries are preventable.
Azar focused primarily on concussions, an injury that has been more common in recent years. Accounting for 10 percent of all highs school athletic injuries, concussions also affect one in five high school football players. Along with soccer, football is among the high-risk activities for concussions, according to Azar.
Among the preventative solutions for concussions Azar discussed were utilizing proper protective gear and adhering to, if not changing, the rules of the sports to protect athletes. Azar also stressed the importance of both physical and cognitive rest in the rehabilitation process and that a gradual return to play was key to recovery.
The second half of Azar’s talk centered on the culture of youth sports. There has been a 9.09 percent decrease in youth participation in sports, according to Azar. Azar discussed the negative impact on the immense pressure from parents and coaches on kids to win. He also spoke on the adverse effects of pressing for single-sport specialization at an early age, arguing that young athletes should wait until their teenage years to focus on one sport.
Azar claimed that the culture today around youth sports has pushed some young athletes away from sports. “Recreational league kids know they’re second-class . . . That’s the reason they play: to have fun,” Azar said. Azar emphasized that parents are ultimately in charge of changing the negative culture that has developed around youth sports. “The culture is there, and it’s hard to change,” Azar said. “It really starts with the parents because we are responsible.”
The Dooley Society is a Notre Dame medical alumni organization. The organization will host another lecture on Saturday, Sept. 17 in Room 105 Jordan Hall titled, “Social Determinants in Health: Focus on Children and Food.”