By Tyrre Burks

If sports and kids go hand-in-hand in today’s American life, the flip side is also true: so do sports injuries and kids.

Some 286.5 million youngsters aged 6 through 17 participated in sports in 2015 alone, so it’s not surprising that a high proportion – 40% – of all life-threatening injuries that afflict this group stems from sports.1 The three leading causes? Cardiac arrest tops the list, followed by concussions and heat-related issues.

And even though football gets a bad rap because of the risk of concussion, the majority of those injuries occur during the first week of practice, when new players are just learning the fine art of hitting. It’s basketball where injuries have gotten out of hand. One new study showed 36% of sudden deaths among youth athletes stemmed from cardiac incidents while playing basketball; football and baseball each accounted for 16%. And most of those sudden deaths – 73% – occurred among youths between 12 and 14, 80% of whom were boys.2

Nobody’s going to argue against the merits of youth sports as a way to foster any number of positive outcomes – from athletic skills to teamwork. The challenge is to make it safe, but the lack of data on injuries in amateur sports is part of the problem. How do you better manage these injuries and emergencies when you have no data on their occurrence in your organization? And even if you did, like most groups at your level, you haven’t the funds for a trainer whose expertise could address many issues at their core.

What every organization involved at every level of every type of youth sport needs to do is understand, put in place and live by the best practices that will create an environment where the risk of injuries and their scope of costs are minimized. Here’s what youth sports organizations need to think about:

  • Emergency action plans. Despite the number of serious injuries experienced by youth athletes during practice or in play, 95% of amateur sports organizations have no emergency action plans (EAPs). An EAP is a critical preventative measure that details concrete, written steps to be taken in the event of a serious sports injury. In addition to assigning emergency roles and responsibilities, it requires information is on-hand on nearby emergency medical facilities. Guidelines also call for on-site emergency equipment like defibrillators, with people trained in their use.
  • Improved training practices. With any sport, training is key, and better training practices can lower the odds of injury. Pre-game stretching, for example, should be mandatory for any sport and at any age as it lowers the likelihood of hamstring injuries even as it strengthens the knees.
  • Documentation, communication. Creating a real-time paper trail and ensuring everyone is kept in the loop is essential, not just when actual incidents occur but for mapping out your policies and procedures. When injuries occur, documentation ensures everyone can track the nature of the incident, its treatment, who was notified and when, and when the youth gets medical clearance for return to play – with copies of relevant reports and diagnostics in the file. Thorough documentation is your first line of defense against possible litigation, but it’s also important for the athlete’s future in sports since an injury can follow a player. The more comprehensive the paper trail, the more effectively the injury’s future effects can be managed. And don’t forget to consult with your insurance broker – they will likely have best practices and tools to assist you.

The ability to participate in a sport – whether a pickup game of baseball or organized basketball, football or soccer – is part and parcel of the experience of growing up in America. We owe it to our children to make it as safe as it is fun.

Tyrre Burks is a former professional football player, and the founder and CEO of Players Health, a risk management firm specializing in sports risk mitigation and compliance services. Through our partnership with Players Health, HUB’s sports experts can show you how to leverage a suite of innovative digital resources to help you manage and prevent athlete injuries. Talk to us today.