Sports Safety for Teens

Millions of teens participate in organized sports each year in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 7.2 million teens participated in high school sports in the 2005–2006 school year and about 2 million of these students experienced a sports-related injury. About 500,000 of these injuries require medical treatment each year and as many as 30,000 require hospitalization.

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The following suggestions can help reduce the risk of sports-related injuries in adolescents:

  • Encourage proper stretching and warming up before and cooling down after all games and practices.
  • Always provide appropriate protective gear (this varies according to sport):
    • Appropriate shoes that fit properly
    • Helmet, protective padding, shin guards, mouth guard
    • Eye protection, face protection
  • Make sure there is a first-aid kit available for all sport practices and games.
  • Make sure playing surfaces and all equipment are appropriate and in good condition for the sport being played. If you have concerns, express them to your teen's coach or to a game or league official.
  • Make sure your teen has plenty of water.
  • Check that coach is trained in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and has an emergency response plan.
  • Make sure your teen uses sunscreen, especially during peak sun hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Parents and coaches should speak with teens about the dangers of using performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids (called "roids" or "juice") and high-dose supplements. Steroids should never be used in young, healthy people to help build muscle. Another dangerous practice among teenage athletes is regularly gaining or losing weight quickly to meet weight requirements. Eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia, are more common in young athletes and can have a serious impact on health.

Recreational Sport Safety for Teens

Wheel sports (e.g., bicycling, inline skating, skateboarding) and snow sports (e.g., skiing, snowboarding, tubing, sledding) can be a good way for teens to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Choosing the right equipment, making sure that it is the correct size, and taking proper safety precautions are essential to prevent injury. Peer pressure can make it difficult for teens to follow safety precautions, such as wearing a helmet, when participating in recreational sports. However, research has shown that helmets can decrease the risk for head injury by about 85 percent.

If your teen shows an interest in recreational sports, encourage him or her to learn as much as possible before investing in expensive equipment. Suggest that he or she find a book at the library or local bookstore and ask your teen to share this information with you. Stores that specialize in bicycles, skateboards, skis, snowboards, and other sporting gear often have personnel who are trained in the proper fitting of safety equipment.

Secondhand equipment may not offer optimal protection. If you receive or purchase secondhand bikes, skates, or skis always check for recalls by contacting the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 800.638.2772 (TTY 800-638-8270).

Also, make sure your teen follows local laws regarding bicycle, skateboard, or inline skate use on public walkways or roads and that he or she only rides during daylight hours (unless the bicycle is equipped with reflectors and lights). When skiing, snowboarding, or sledding it is important for teens to follow all posted safety guidelines and recommendations.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 28 Aug 2015