The physical benefits of participating in sports are obvious in our increasingly obese society, but team sports also teach cooperation, responsibility to the team, mental preparedness and social development. What about the risk of injury?

With the consequences of repeated concussions of football players as a hot topic in the news, it is reasonable to ask whether team sports are safe for your child. All sports present some injury risk. A Safe Kids USA study reports that of the more than 30 million American children who participate in sports each year, nearly 40% under the age of 15 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for a sports-related injury—62% of which occur during practice.

For instance, among young athletes 5 to 14 years of age, 15% of basketball players, 28% of football players, 22% of soccer players, 25% of baseball players and 12% of softball players have been injured while playing their respective sports. And approximately two out of five traumatic brain injuries—the leading cause of sports-related death to children—are associated with participation in sports and recreational activities.

As a safety measure, young athletes should participate on teams organized around a combination of the players’ ages and weights, so that they compete against others of the same size and strength. In addition, studies have shown that a high level of safety in youth sports is maintained when

players use appropriate equipment for each sport at all times

• coaches are trained to recognize injuries and potential safety problems

• teams have a plan to respond to emergencies

• injured players are not permitted to continue to play

Because children are not mini-adults and their growing bodies have special needs, we recommend a program developed by a physical therapist or trainer specialized in strength and conditioning programs for children appropriate to each athlete’s age and level of physical development. Such a regimen will maximize his or her flexibility, range of motion and strength to thus avoid injury.