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“Epidemic” of Injuries In Youth Athletics on the Next Edition of 60 MINUTES SPORTS; Tues., Nov. 4 on SHOWTIME
A California orthopedist says female soccer players as young as 12 are experiencing a “plague” of serious knee injuries due mainly to the repetitive stress of playing the same game all year. And they are not alone.
More than a million kids incur sports injuries serious enough to require medical attention every year in the U.S., and many of those may be due to playing one sport year round. Sharyn Alfonsi reports on this trend of “overuse injuries,” on the next edition of 60 MINUTES SPORTS, premiering Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on SHOWTIME.
PREVIEW: Correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi and producer Rome Hartman outline their report.
Fewer high school athletes earn two or three letters today than they did in years past. Instead, many focus on just one sport and play it all year to maximize their chances for a sports scholarship to college. Pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dr. Nirav Pandya says he is seeing this trend in even younger kids and it’s taking a heavy toll on girl soccer players’ still-growing knees among others. “It’s just kind of… the plague of female soccer players…multiple ACL injuries. It just such part of the sport,” he says.
He is referring to tears of the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. Nearly all such injuries require surgery. “By the time these kids are 12 or 13, they know someone on their team who [has] had an ACL injury…multiple ACL injuries [are] almost the norm now. You tear one side, you’re going to tear the other side. Or you tear that same one again. You have another surgery,” he tells Alfonsi.
Pandya says the injuries are predictable. “It’s doing the same thing year-round…the same thing repetitively, again and again and again. The body’s just going to break down from that.” Alfonsi also looks at kids who play only baseball, where players constantly practice throwing and swinging. The American Sports Medicine Institute says that since 2000 it has seen a five-fold increase in serious elbow and shoulder injuries among youth baseball players.
A growing private youth sports industry is driving the trend to one-sport specialization, says Prof. Jay Coakley, author of a widely used textbook on sports and society. They need income all year long, “So they’ve come up with a rationale for playing multiple seasons in a single sport during a given year, going to camps between the seasons…tournaments pre and post season so that they have dues-paying members 12 months a year,” he says.
Coakley says these private groups are not deliberately deceiving parents when they promise to take their kids to the next level of skill in one sport. But the whole system is geared to offering hope for scholarship and glory – an extremely rare outcome given the amount of kids playing sports. “If you were going to a race track and there was a horse that had 100 to one odds on it you’d never bet on it. But people are making that bet on their children every day,” Coakley tells Alfonsi.