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Opinion: Young athletes need sports medicine investment

Industry Insight

Posted online

What was a specialty only available to the professional and collegiate athlete is now readily available for the youth athlete, interscholastic competitor, weekend warrior, fitness enthusiast and the industrial athlete.

The U.S. youth sports industry is estimated to be a $15.3 billion market, according to WinterGreen Research out of Lexington, Massachusetts. Adding to that dollar amount is the estimated $5 billion attributed to interscholastic sports.

The National Federation of State High School Associations reports student participation in athletics reached an all-time high of over 7.9 million high schoolers in 2017. Additionally, a National Council of Youth Sports survey estimates there are 60 million children ages 6-18 who participate in organized sports.

It is no secret that sports in America has become increasingly valued, culturally and financially. Whether the return on investment is wise or not can be argued.

With the increase of sports participation and corresponding investment from families, there has been a significant rise in the injury rates of America’s youth participants.

In 2014, The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness highlighted this issue in a position paper. The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine estimates that 46 percent of injuries can be attributed to overuse, compared with 54 percent of injuries related to acute or traumatic causes. A quick Google search will reveal sobering statistics regarding traumatic brain injuries and illnesses, as well as sudden deaths during athletic participation. The Youth Safety Alliance reports that high school athletes notch 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year.

It all contributes to a cost realized by the athlete, family, team, organization and community. These costs can be financial, emotional, societal and physical. Many of us don’t even think about that until an injury occurs.

The Missouri State High School Activities Association provides administrative oversight for member schools participating in interscholastic sports activities. MSHSAA provides sports medicine policy, guidelines and recommendations to member schools and encourages a licensed athletic trainer to be a daily part of the athletic program. Unfortunately, the majority of schools in Missouri do not have a dedicated licensed athletic trainer assigned to take care of student athletes on a daily basis. The realities of subpar health care become even more concerning within the youth sports community. Currently, there is minimal to no oversight – mandated or otherwise – at all levels of youth sports events, let alone practices.

It is important to note that sports participation is widely viewed as a positive experience across many disciplines, including the medical and educational communities. Unfortunately, the mindset of “it will not happen to me” is too prevalent.

The question to ask is, “Who is the advocate for the health and well-being of the sports participant, especially our youth?”

Reactionary responses to injury and illness are unnecessary and can be catastrophic. A detailed and comprehensive program includes awareness, education, proactive planning, communication, accountability and daily engagement with all stakeholders.

Sports medicine programming should not be any different than any other business practice when it comes to mitigating risk. Risk reduction requires ongoing evaluation and exploration of best practices and cannot be relegated to a “check-box” mentality.

Even though prevention should be prioritized, unfortunate circumstances do occur. A seamless continuum of care from the field to the physician’s evaluation and management to rehabilitation/recovery back to return is paramount.

Care that is effective and efficient requires a team of health care professionals that maintain the focus on the patient and their desire to return to activity. This requires a proactive clinical mindset and a team of sports medicine doctors, surgeons, therapy, and strength and conditioning specialists that value an athlete’s desire.

In the unfortunate event of an injury or illness, will your child be managed and cared for by the best-known practices? Have you inquired who is responsible for the care of your child? What action plans are in place? What training do they have?

As with any business, there is a cost; the unknown is when the bill will come due.

Jim Raynor is administrative director of Mercy Sports Medicine, Springfield Communities. He can be reached at


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