Earlier this week, three of our bloggers were delighted to represent CTWorkingMoms.com at the NFL Roundtable on Youth Sports Safety for the second year in a row. While last year’s event focused primarily on concussions and football, this year’s panel was expanded to include other sports popular with youth as well as additional topics related to youth sports.
Concussions were still a hot button topic among the panelists, and rightly so; if you want to take a look at the prevalence of concussions in our youth beyond boys and football, check out this video about a girls soccer team from Pennsylvania (I promise it’s worth watching all 8 minutes 39 seconds and will change your perception of what concussion is and looks like). Appropriately, it seemed, the panel was moderated by Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth of NorthShore University HealthSystem, a Head Injury Consultant and Neuropsychologist. But this year the roundtable also looked more comprehensively at other safety concerns around youth and sports and the wellbeing of our kids while participating in sports activities.
While our bloggers were invited there as moms in the blogging community, I was doubly interested in the information provided, given that my job is as a high school cheerleading coach (and was thrilled to see cheer represented on the panel!). Here’s a look at some of the measures our youth sports organizations are taking to keep our kids safe.
Little League Baseball – Stephen D. Keener, President & CEO
Little League truly is focused on the safety of its youth athletes. Mr. Keener emphasized the organization’s focus on total child wellbeing, with current initiatives around smokeless tobacco, performance enhancing drugs and protection from sexual predators. Future issues for the organization to address are developing sport-specific protective head gear for pitchers and education for parents about the ramifications of sports specialization for young athletes.
USA Basketball – Jim Tooley, CEO/Executive Director
USA Basketball is just getting into the youth space with its initiatives. It recently acquired iHoops, which is an online network and resource for youth basketball players, coaches and parents, and will use that tool to jumpstart its involvement with pre-elite basketball players ages 8 to 18.
USA Cheer – Jeff Webb, President
Cheerleading is on the rise as a youth sport, with high school teams, competitive All Star teams, and youth recreational teams. USA Cheer takes a multi-pronged approach to the safety of its athletes, including extensive safety training and education for coaches. One of the biggest challenges cheer faces is that the sport at the youth level isn’t standardized in the same way that high school and All Star participation is. Parents who have children interested in youth cheerleading can inquire about the certification of the coaches to ensure that any volunteer coaches are properly trained.
USA Football – Nick Inzerello, Senior Director, Football Development
USA Football continues to focus on concussion education and management as a key issue of importance for its youth athletes. The organization touts its comprehensive Heads Up Football program and a relationship with the CDC as well as a slew of other resources to help keep young football players safe.
USA Hockey – Kevin McLaughlin, Senior Director, Hockey Development
USA Hockey is focusing on providing age-appropriate guidelines and curriculum to its young athletes. It recognizes that there is a big discrepancy between the perception of hockey as a sport at the youth level and hockey as entertainment at the professional level. The organization takes the stance that if kids diversify in sports that they will be better athletes. Their website admkids.com was developed to help more kids play, love and excel in hockey.
US Lacrosse – Ann Kitt Carpenetti, Managing Director of Game Administration
US Lacrosse is working on developing sport-specific safety equipment for its youth athletes, using empirical data to drive these advancements. With youth making up 75% of the sport’s athletes, the organization is committed to improving the safety of youth lacrosse players.
US Youth Soccer – Jim Cosgrove, Executive Director
There are over 80 million youth soccer alums in the United States. The organization focuses on the mental, physical and emotional development of its youth players through age-appropriate player progressional development programs.
An overarching theme across all panelists is that, even though these organizations exist to work towards making their respective sports safer for youths, there’s a responsibility as well on us as parents to not be afraid to ask questions and be choosy. It is up to you as the parent to determine whether a particular youth sports program is the right fit for your child and you; parents should specifically consider what they want their kids to get out of a youth sports program and not be afraid to ask about a coach’s coaching philosophy (a program that focuses on winning versus emphasizing character development). All of the organizations that participated in the panel stressed the importance of open communication between parents, kids and coaches. Regardless of the coach’s philosophy, panelists also stressed the importance of not forcing your kids to specialize in any particular sport at such a young age, even if they show particular talent in a sport, and to not pressure children into being overly competitive in their youth – to keep the fun and child development in youth sports!
Anyone interested in additional information can follow the links above for each organization, or reach out to us in the comments below with questions.