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API: 10 Lessons Learned from Playing Youth Sports

Playing sports at any level from pick-up on the school field to the most elite teams teaches valuable life lessons that will help kids through difficult challenges throughout their lives.  They offer an opportunity for personal growth and the chance to develop important life skills.

  1. Success Requires Hard Work: Players quickly learn that the best players on the team are usually the players that work the hardest at improving their skills. At the youngest ages, natural talent certainly plays some role, but as kids age, the players with the best work ethic rise to the top.  They are the ones practicing free throw after free throw, taking shots on goal, or hitting at the batting cages.  This teaches kids that if they want to become really good at anything in life, whether it’s playing an instrument, learning a foreign language, or getting a promotion, then it’s going to take hard, consistent work. There are no shortcuts.
  1. It’s Okay to Make Mistakes: Even the best player will make a mistake during a game or at practice.  Most good coaches will say if you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not pushing yourself to try new and different skills.  Every mistake is a learning opportunity and a chance to evaluate what can be done differently the next time to change the outcome.  Making mistakes is good and helps develop stronger, smarter players, as long as it’s not the same mistake over and over.
  1. Exercise Does the Body Good: Involvement in sports can help kids develop healthy exercise and eating habits that will last a lifetime. Sports help kids understand how their bodies work, how to stay in shape and exercise properly, and how it feels to have fit bodies that are capable of anything.  Kids have a far greater chance of staying fit later in life if they play youth sports at a young age. 
  1. Life Isn’t Always Fair: Life can be tough.  It’s a difficult lesson for young players to learn, but a necessary one. Injuries happen; referees make bad calls or miss fouls; and things don’t always go your way for one reason or another.  Players have to learn to accept this and move forward because dwelling on it isn’t going to change the end result. 
  1. The World is Diverse: Teams generally include kids from all types of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. This provides young athletes with an opportunity to learn to work with others who are different from themselves. A diverse group of athletes fosters creativity, reduces stereotypes, and can provide kids with a different life perspective.
  1. How to Follow, How to Lead: Sports help young athletes learn to follow instructions and accept guidance from the coach who is an authority figure, and in many ways, similar to having a boss.  Players learn how to respectfully question authority, and how to have patience if they disagree.  In turn, athletes develop their own leadership skills by offering advice and guidance to other players. It also teaches kids how to deal with others when they have disagreements.  It’s as important to learn how to lead others, as it is to learn how to be led by others.  And by following, they get plenty of ideas of the type of leader they would like to be in the future.
  1. Self-Confidence: Participating in sports helps build self-esteem. By competing, you are able to discover your potential to perform better, to hold yourself to a higher standard, and to expect more of yourself.  Self-confidence makes athletes more likely to take on challenges in all aspects of their lives and to set goals and work to achieve them.
  1. Teamwork and Trust: Team members must learn to rely on each other and how to work well with others to achieve a common goal. Teamwork also involves understanding and respecting each member’s role and being a good team player.
  1. Sportsmanship: Learning how to win with class and lose with dignity are important life lessons.  Being gracious at both will help in years to come when you must face success and failure in your job and in your everyday life.
  1. How to Manage Pressure & Stress: For better or worse, there is a lot of pressure in youth sports, some of it attributable to over-the-top parents who demand consistent excellence from their children.   But some of the pressure is just the normal pressure of intense competition. Young athletes learn to deal with nerves and the stress they feel in these situations while in a safe environment.  While they may find some situations too overwhelming, it’s a learning experience that allows them get comfortable with high pressure situations they’ll encounter later in life.
API: Girls Soccer Now Outranks Football in Concussions

A new study of concussions in high school athletes shows that concussions now account for a higher proportion of injuries in girls soccer than in boys football.  The study Sport- and Gender-specific Trends in the Epidemiology of Concussions Suffered by High School Athletes” determined that approximately 27 percent of all injuries suffered by girl soccer players are traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Male football players indicated only a 24 percent correlation between brain injuries and overall injuries.

That statistic will surprise many who have long considered football players to be most at risk for head injuries with its tackles and head on collisions.  It is estimated that 300,000 adolescents suffer concussions each year while participating in organized sports.

The study also shows that concussions are on the rise across all sports, although this is likely in part due to increased awareness as a result of the introduction of Traumatic Brain Injury laws.  Since 2009, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation targeted at reducing the number of concussions in youth sports.  The study compares concussion rates as a percentage of all injuries between 2005-2010 (pre-TBI legislation) and 2010-2015 (post-TBI legislation). Researchers saw a dramatic increase (with some rates doubling) in the incidence of concussions post-TBI law enactment, likely due to health care practitioners, coaches, athletes, and parents becoming increasingly aware of, looking for, and reporting concussions.


Source:  Sport- and Gender-specific Trends in the Epidemiology of Concussions Suffered by High School Athletes

This is the first study to conclude that girls soccer players, if injured, are more likely to suffer a concussion than an injured player on the football team. The concussion rate for girls soccer is also increasing rapidly.  It is 3 times higher than boys soccer and nearly equal to boys football.  These concussion statistics combined with the higher rate of knee and ACL injuries in girls soccer will likely turn a few heads and perhaps change what most people think of as potentially dangerous sports.

The takeaway from this study seems to be that additional studies are needed that delve into the sport or gender specific differences in concussion occurrence.


Caffeine and Kids’ Sports Performance – Yay or Nay

Since caffeine consumption is common with adults (over 80% of adults are consuming at least some caffeine every week and over 55% are consuming caffeine daily) and it has been studied regarding adult sport performance, it would be natural to wonder if there would be any benefit to caffeine and kids’ sports performance. While many adults get their caffeine fix in the form of a morning cup (or two) of coffee, the younger generation is turning to energy drinks.  Consuming caffeine is easier and more readily available for all generations and may have possible benefits for adults. However, does that mean caffeine intake can positively impact sports performance for the young?

Caffeine’s Impact on Sports Performance in Adults

While studies have shown caffeine intake in adults to have a wide range of possible benefits, particularly when it comes to sports performance, among them:  enhanced endurance exercise performance, improved reaction time, increase oxygen uptake; and delayed feelings of fatigue, is it fair to assume caffeine consumption in teens and pre-teens is beneficial as well?

Caffeine and Teenagers

Doctors feel it would would be unwise to assume any benefits to adult athletes would apply to teens.  Although the effects of caffeine on teenagers have not been studied as in depth as the effects on adults, still 25%-50% of energy drink sales in the USA are to the 12- to 18-year-old age group.  Between school demands, sports, activities, and a lack of sleep, it’s not surprising that teens turn to caffeine for an energy boost.

Sources of Caffeine for Children and Teens

Children and teens are not only drinking more caffeine than prior years, they are turning to a variety of sources.  While they are consuming less caffeinated soda, they are turning to more coffee and energy drinks. Many energy drinks contain banned substances or other stimulants that are less well-studied (guarana, guayaki, guayusa).  They also have varying levels of caffeine. Because teens metabolize caffeine differently than adults, it is much easier for them to become caffeine toxic or to overdose.  Side effects from caffeine are more common in teens than adults, including:  the jitters, sleep disturbances, inability to focus, nausea, and vomiting.  Also, since many teenagers currently take prescription drugs to treat ADHD, caffeine consumption is even more risky.

The Risks of Caffeine and Energy Drinks on Teens

Despite advertising and peer acceptance of caffeine and energy drink consumption, the risks to kids and teens are real and it is best avoided.  Science hasn’t adequately studied how much caffeine is safe for kids and teens.  Research has shown that energy drinks can cause dangerous changes in heart function and blood pressure above and beyond caffeine alone.  In 2007, the number of caffeine related emergency room visits in the US was 10,068.  By 2011, this number jumped to more than 20,000 ER visits in which an energy drink was cited as the primary cause or contributing factor of the health problem.  With energy drink sales skyrocketing to $21 billion in 2017, this is clearly a problem that isn’t going away.

For Kids and Teens The Risk of Caffeine Outweighs the Benefits

While deaths from caffeine overdose are rare, the long-term health effects of frequent and liberal caffeine consumption by teens and young adults are unknown.  Doctors caution kids and teens NOT to consume energy drinks, whether it’s to improve sports performance or just to stay awake.  The health risks of caffeine and other substances is too great.

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