Youth Sports May Be Bad for Your Health

Repeat head injuries, aggressive play—and just as aggressive coaching—are major fouls when it comes to kids playing sports.


Warning: Being a student athlete may be dangerous to your physical and mental health.

The school year is drawing to a close, and with it many spring sports seasons are ending or are in playoffs. But that hasn’t dimmed the light of attention being focused on youth sports lately.

Consider the recent story of Darien lacrosse coach Lisa Lindley. Until the Friday before Memorial Day, she was the revered leader of ’s girls lacrosse team. But on that day, in the middle of the FCIAC lax finals pitting Darien against Greenwich, , Caylee Waters. Pictures taken by a Hearst newspapers photographer show the coach grabbing Waters’ helmet and shouting in her face.

Shortly thereafter, Lindley was placed on administrative leave from her coaching position for this year, but it’s been reported that her suspension will not be a permanent one; in fact, according to the Darien Times Lindley will return next year as coach of the team.

I’m troubled that school administrators aren’t giving more extensive consideration before allowing her to take back the reins of the team, especially after suggest the incident was behavior not far out of the norm for this coach.

Student athletes, even at older teenage levels, are still kids. I know there are those who say, “We coddle our kids too much in Fairfield County. Not everyone deserves a trophy.”

All the same, everyone deserves to feel safe and not be verbally assaulted by an adult who is purportedly teaching you and directing you. These are teenagers, not professional athletes—whether they be girls or boys.

Surprisingly, some commenters did support this type of coaching, suggesting girl athletes will always feel second tier to boys, and a coach who yells is actually one who shows “real caring.”  Sorry, but I wholeheartedly disagree—I think a yeller only makes someone feel belittled, lousy and less confident.

Of course, coaching incidents like this are not the norm, but they make for great headlines—as happened in had players burn third place trophies as some sort of punishing motivation for not ranking higher. Fairfield County is not the sole place where school and town athletics are competitive, or where parents heatedly yell at kids and umpires from the sidelines.

Now, too, there’s mounting buzz about health issues that crop up from sports injuries, predominantly concussions. It’s an issue being debated more and more at professional levels, considering how damaging a career’s worth of repeated injuries could potentially be.

After recent suicides of retired players reportedly suffering with lingering effects form past head injuries were anecdotally linked to progressive brain damage, the heat has increased—most recently when the family of former NFL player Junior Seau decided to donate his brain for head trauma research following Seau’s suicide last month.

Some big names are starting to take a more vocal stand against players starting young, especially in the more aggressive sports like football. Did you ever think you’d hear the names Tom Brady Sr. or Kurt Warner on the side of those advocating a harder look at the dangers of teen and youth football? Even the dad of leading quarterback Tom Brady would think twice about letting his son get into the game.

Here in Wilton where I live, there have been a sudden rash of recent injuries in the handful of child athletes I know—two concussions (one baseball, one soccer), one baseball to the eye, one potential broken wrist (also baseball)—and those are to kids not yet in high school.

What’s more, it’s not even football season.

We have to wonder about how much we’re pushing our kids, and pushing our kids to push themselves. I understand the camaraderie, the dedication and commitment they’re learning, and the amazing physical benefits of involvement in team sports.

I write this while watching my son at travel soccer practice. At the moment, they’re working on strategic passes to goal, and as center midfielder and occasional striker, he’s right now standing close to goal as the player his teammates will pass to for the score. I watch as a pass comes his way—directly at his head.

I feel the internal pull between soccer sideline mom and … just mom. Make the header! says the mom who wants her son to do well for his coach, for his teammates and for himself.

And what of the ‘just mom,’ who knows the lasting impact a swift moving ball can have when it does literally make impact.  Please let him reflexively turn away!

Realistically, I know the majority of young athletes don’t get injured, and they’re not pushed past their physical limits. So too, of course, there are so many more wonderful coaches who motivate their young student athletes by building their self-esteem and infusing their character.

I hope those are the rules and that my children and yours don’t meet the exceptions.

I want my children to reap the healthy benefits of being active and part of a team. I hope being an athlete will give them opportunities to test themselves and to attain goals that outpace their self-expectations.

I just don’t think they need to be put in harm’s way or pushed too far in order to achieve those successes.

Joe Burke June 05, 2012 at 03:57 PM
At the professional level football has become a gladiator sport and unfortunately that filters down somewhat to the college and high school levels.My experience in watching youth football over the last couple of years has been a very positive one- the coaches emphasis proper blocking and tackling techniques and our teams have been blessed with very minor injuries as a result. As the boys get bigger and stronger I expect that we will see more injuries for no other reason than they hit harder-still focus on proper hitting goes a long way in mitigating injuries. I was surprised to learn that playing soccer is the leading cause of concussions for young girls- i am still trying to figure out how that is possible and do not think that headers are the cause. Overall I am amazed at the number of kids who get concussions. Did they go undiagnosed years ago or were they just less frequent??
Brian Kesselman June 05, 2012 at 08:33 PM
The benefits and potential liabilities of student sports are often difficult to weigh. They are highly dependent on the specific coaches, students and leagues involved. The level of supervision in our school programs, our local youth programs, parks and recreation and private sports vary widely by sport, team and coach. My son does fencing at Wilton Fencing Academy and, surprisingly, fencing is one of the safest sports for students because of the strict rules related to equipment and comportment. My daughter does competitive cheerleading at Champion All Stars in Danbury, one of the most dangerous sports. That gym keeps safety the #1 priority when training and competing, but there are no guarantees. There is a wealth of information available about sport safety. Of course some of it is contradictory, some inflammatory, and some more or less statistically representative of what we experience in Wilton. For instance, if you review the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research 2007 study (http://www.unc.edu/depts/nccsi/AllSport.htm) and review the data tables (http://www.unc.edu/depts/nccsi/2010AllSportTables.pdf) you see that the data was compiled from different ranges of years for different sports. Many rule changes and equipment improvements have occurred that need to be taken into account if comparing to our town. "Don't forget Conditioning!" For the safest sports, check this out: http://www.livestrong.com/article/544892-safest-sports-to-play
Sue Donem June 06, 2012 at 12:01 PM
As you imply in your reporting of the Darien case, it is VERY difficult to get rid of a coach. Lindley is also a coach at the middle school where she will remain. Generally HS coaches are protected by their unions because they often double as gym teachers or other educational position. I would be very surprised if Lindley isn't back on the sidelines next year regardless of what Darien parents may want.
WT June 06, 2012 at 02:46 PM
It is not difficult to get rid of a coach if the Athletic Director and Principal wants to. Coaches are not part of the teachers union and have year-to-year contracts. They can simply have there contracts not renued for the follwoing year. What makes it "difficult" to fire a coach, especially one who has been very sucessful on the field, is the parents and student athletes who support the coach.
Brigitte Grisanti June 07, 2012 at 07:23 PM
When coaches and players get caught up in the moment things will be said.Some coaches might have a hot head,but most of those coaches have a winning record Brigitte Grisanti


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