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Can We Change the Culture of Youth Sports?

August 12, 2014

New survey shows alarming number of athletes injured as a result of dirty play, athletes hiding injuries to stay in the game, and parents pressuring coaches to play injured athletes.

Washington, D.C.– Every day, 3,400 children sustain a sports injury severe enough to go to the emergency room. Safe Kids Worldwide, with the support of Johnson & Johnson, conducted a survey of parents, coaches and young athletes to explore how the culture of sports may be keeping kids out of the game.

The report, “Changing the Culture of Youth Sports” takes an in-depth look at behaviors that may lead to serious injuries. 

 Download the report and infographic.

One in four young athletes reported it is normal to commit hard fouls and play rough to “send a message” during a game. This norm leads to a disturbing number of injuries: 33 percent of athletes report being hurt as the result of “dirty play” from an opponent.

Approximately 42 percent of players reported they have hidden or downplayed an injury during a game so they could keep playing, and 62 percent said they know someone else who has done so. Only 27 percent of coaches reported a player having hidden or downplayed an injury.

More than half of athletes reported playing while injured. Reasons given include not wanting to let the team down or not wanting to be benched.

More than half of coaches reported being pressured by a parent or player to put an athlete back into a game when a child has been injured.

“Playing sports safely isn’t about limiting kids, it’s about keeping athletes healthy and injury-free so they can keep playing to their greatest potential,” said Kate Carr, President and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. “Teach kids to speak up when injured, put an end to dirty play, and empower coaches with tools they need to be effective and keep kids playing safe and strong.”

Jack Crowe, former NCAA football coach, believes education is the solution. “We need more education, not just for coaches, but for parents and athletes, too,” said Crowe. “There are steps we can take to prevent most serious injuries, and one of the most important is to give athletes a chance to heal when they do get hurt.”

Culture-Changing Strategies

  • Set the ground rules at the beginning of the season. Coaches bring together parents and athletes before the season begins to agree on the team’s approach to prevent injuries.
  • Teach athletes ways to prevent injuries.Proper technique, strength training, warm-up exercises and stretching can go a long way to preventing injuries.
  • Prevent overuse injuries.Encourage athletes to take time off from playing only one sport to prevent overuse injuries and give them an opportunity to get stronger and develop skills learned in another sport.
  • Encourage athletes to speak up when they’re injured. Remove injured athletes from play.
  • Put an end to dirty play and rule-breaking. Call fouls that could cause injuries.
  • Get certified.Learn first aid, CPR, AED use and injury prevention skills.

For more information about sports safety, see our tips page.

Keeping kids safe is a team effort. There is nothing more important than growing healthy, happy kids.  Throughout our 26-year partnership, Safe Kids and Johnson & Johnson have remained committed to reducing preventable injuries in children.

About Safe Kids Worldwide

Safe Kids Worldwide is a nonprofit organization working to prevent childhood injury, the number one killer of children in the United States. Throughout the world, almost one million children die of an injury each year, and almost every one of these tragedies is preventable. Safe Kids works with an extensive network of more than 500 coalitions in the U.S. and with partners in more than 25 countries to reduce traffic injuries, drownings, falls, burns, poisonings and more. Since 1988, Safe Kids has helped reduce the U.S. childhood death rate from unintentional injury by 56 percent. Working together, we can do much more for kids everywhere. Join our effort at

Media Contact

Julie Kenneally
Public Relations Associate
[email protected]