Youth Sports Might Be Bad for Your Health

Head injuries, aggressive play—and just as aggressive coaching—are major fouls when it comes to kids playing sports.


Warning: Being a student athlete may be dangerous to your physical and mental health.

The school year is drawing to a close, and with it many spring sports seasons are ending or are in playoffs; but, that hasn’t dimmed the light of attention being focused on youth sports lately.

Consider the recent story of Darien lacrosse coach Lisa Lindley. Until the Friday before Memorial Day, she was the revered leader of ’s girls lacrosse team. But on that day, in the middle of the FCIAC lax finals pitting Darien against Greenwich, , Caylee Waters. Pictures taken by a Hearst newspapers photographer show the coach grabbing Waters’ helmet and shouting in her face.

Shortly thereafter, Lindley was placed on administrative leave from her coaching position for this year, but it’s been reported that her suspension will not be a permanent one; in fact, according to the Darien Times Lindley will return next year as coach of the team.

I’m troubled that school administrators aren’t giving more extensive consideration before allowing her to take back the reins of the team, especially after suggest the incident was behavior not far out of the norm for this coach.

Student athletes, even at older teenage levels, are still kids. I know there are those who say, “We coddle our kids too much in Fairfield County. Not everyone deserves a trophy.”

All the same, everyone deserves to feel safe and not be verbally assaulted by an adult who is purportedly teaching you and directing you. These are teenagers, not professional athletes—whether they be girls or boys.

Surprisingly, some commenters did support this type of coaching, suggesting girl athletes will always feel second tier to boys, and a coach who yells is actually one who shows “real caring.”  Sorry, but I wholeheartedly disagree—I think a yeller only makes someone feel belittled, lousy and less confident.

Of course, coaching incidents like this are not the norm, but they make for great headlines—as happened in had players burn third place trophies as some sort of punishing motivation for not ranking higher. Fairfield County is not the sole place where school and town athletics are competitive, or where parents heatedly yell at kids and umpires from the sidelines.

Now, too, there’s mounting buzz about health issues that crop up from sports injuries, predominantly concussions. It’s an issue being debated more and more at professional levels, considering how damaging a career’s worth of repeated injuries could potentially be.

After recent suicides of retired players reportedly suffering with lingering effects form past head injuries were anecdotally linked to progressive brain damage, the heat has increased—most recently when the family of former NFL player Junior Seau decided to donate his brain for head trauma research following Seau’s suicide last month.

Some big names are starting to take a more vocal stand against players starting young, especially in the more aggressive sports like football. Did you ever think you’d hear the names Tom Brady Sr. or Kurt Warner on the side of those advocating a harder look at the dangers of teen and youth football? Even the dad of leading quarterback Tom Brady would think twice about letting his son get into the game.

Here in Wilton where I live, there have been a sudden rash of recent injuries in the handful of child athletes I know—two concussions (one baseball, one soccer), one baseball to the eye, one potential broken wrist (also baseball)—and those are to kids not yet in high school.

What’s more, it’s not even football season.

We have to wonder about how much we’re pushing our kids, and pushing our kids to push themselves. I understand the camaraderie, the dedication and commitment they’re learning, and the amazing physical benefits of involvement in team sports.

I write this while watching my son at travel soccer practice. At the moment, they’re working on strategic passes to goal, and as center midfielder and occasional striker, he’s right now standing close to goal as the player his teammates will pass to for the score. I watch as a pass comes his way—directly at his head.

I feel the internal pull between soccer sideline mom and … just mom. Make the header! says the mom who wants her son to do well for his coach, for his teammates and for himself.

And what of the ‘just mom,’ who knows the lasting impact a swift moving ball can have when it does literally make impact.  Please let him reflexively turn away!

Realistically, I know the majority of young athletes don’t get injured, and they’re not pushed past their physical limits. So too, of course, there are so many more wonderful coaches who motivate their young student athletes by building their self-esteem and infusing their character.

I hope those are the rules and that my children and yours don’t meet the exceptions.

I want my children to reap the healthy benefits of being active and part of a team. I hope being an athlete will give them opportunities to test themselves and to attain goals that outpace their self-expectations.

I just don’t think they need to be put in harm’s way or pushed too far in order to achieve those successes..

Sal Monella June 15, 2012 at 12:35 PM
I'm pretty sure girls play sports too. In fact the writer references girls lacrosse, so it must be true that not everyone plays baseball.
Sal Monella June 15, 2012 at 12:40 PM
The bottom line is that kids need sports as an outlet in their lives. They have very busy days now and playing a sport and getting that adreneline rush is a great way to end the day. Are we going to let one persons opinion on kids playing sports change us all? Will we stop enrolling our kids in town soccer, or basketball, or tee ball? I really hope not. Its our job as parents to encourage our kids to do well in whatever they choose. If they have an intense coach who realizes their talent and wants to push them harder, go for it. If they really stink and are put on the bench, so be it! Life isn't easy and when these kids hit the work force they don't know how to act. They need to be pushed, they need to experience being let down. Life isn't about how you fall, its how you pick yourself up after that counts. Being part of a team is a wonderful experience for kids (and adults).
Sal Monella June 15, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Wow, i'm shocked by this part of the thread. Watchdog apparently doesn't have daughters.
Peter Bishop June 17, 2012 at 05:49 PM
I played sports most of my life. I started in town soccer, then played CYO basketball and onto Football and Lacrosse in High School. I have had my fair share of intense coaches. Many of which yelled in my face if I didn't perform. It never made me doubt myself, it never made me question my ability. It made me want to kick butt on the field. Proper coaching also minimizes injuries. My whole family is athletic. My sister attended college on a full ride because she was an awesome field hockey player. My little brother got a soccer scholarship. I enjoyed playing sports but my abilities were far from exceptional. With regard to the comments on this thread about moms dumping kids in daycare. My mom is a hard working very loving person. Someone with 3 kids that were very active. She worked so we could join anything we wanted, & do anything we wanted. She is truly an amazing person and I'm lucky to have her. My dad works hard too, but he never picked us up from sports or shuffled 3 kids around town. He worked, came home & sat on the couch. I appreciate what he did for us, but its not the same level of sacrifice as my mom. Also, 3 months is generous. Many of my friends get a whopping 6 weeks. Hardly enough time to bond with your child. Perhaps instead of flaming women on here Watchdog, you can help all women get better maternity packages. Do your research, the United States has some of the worst maternity coverage in the world. Go Team!
Racman63 June 17, 2012 at 06:09 PM
I have a lot of friends approaching mid-century who now suffer from knee and back issues--old High School football problems. Just not worth it. Not for my kids.


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