While youth sports have been lauded as a healthy, positive activity for children and promote life-long physical and mental health,1 there is the potential for unexpected and significant injury. Youth sports carry a risk to children, and this risk needs to be addressed by the adults in their lives, especially pediatricians.
Drs. Canty and Giordino address these concerns in their recent Pediatrics Perspectives article, “Confronting Child Maltreatment in Youth Sports” (10.1542/peds.2021-055816). These authors acknowledge the recent sexual abuse tragedy from USA Gymnastics (USAG) involving Larry Nassar, which is horrifying and reprehensible, but they show that it is just the tip of the iceberg. The documentary on the Larry Nassar scandal was difficult to watch but buried within the sexual abuse scandal was an aspect of USAG that was not in mainstream media: the physical and psychological burden for these young athletes.
While we all know about the common risks in sports including injury, there are unnecessary risks in sports that many of us see and overlook every day: overuse injuries from inappropriate activity on growing bodies, abusive coaching techniques, and bullying from peers. Simone Biles stepped up and talked about the well-being of athletes, but it should not be up to the athletes themselves to do the work.
We, as pediatricians and pediatric subspecialists, have a responsibility to mitigate those risks and make youth sports safer and healthier for children. We need to advocate for safer activities and hold coaches, parents, and leaders accountable for mentoring and supporting, not abusing and bullying student athletes. One resource for families and professionals is the US Center for SafeSport which has a wealth of information and support for athletes, parents, coaches, and others.
- Logan K, Cuff S, Council On Sports M, Fitness. Organized Sports for Children, Preadolescents, and Adolescents. Pediatrics. June 2019; 143(6):e20190997