OPINION

MOODY: The benefits of students playing sports

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

More than 30 million kids, between the ages of 5-18, participate in organized sports. From soccer to baseball, to football, volleyball, track, cross country, and gymnastics, kids are playing more sports, beginning their playing careers earlier, and some may argue, playing more intensively than ever before. The benefits of playing organized sports have been clearly documented. Kids get a chance to practice new skills, learn about teambuilding, teamwork, and leadership. They spend time unplugged from a  screen and getting some physical activity. Participation in organized athletics teaches kids valuable interpersonal skills, about conflict resolution, and about time management. Statistically speaking, girls and young women who play organized sports are less likely to become unintentionally pregnant, are more likely to graduate high school and get better grades than their peers who don’t participate in sports. Anecdotally, female athletes have more positive body image, less depression, and high self- esteem than non-athletes.

With participation in organized sports on the rise, the number of sports related injuries are also on the rise. Heat stroke, concussions and abdominal injuries have all made headlines recently. According to recent data, 3.5 million kids under the age of 14 receive medical treatment every year from a sports relate injury. Sixty two percent of these injuries occur during practice and more than half are what experts call “avoidable.” With this in mind, April is National Youth Sports Safety Month. Supported by more than 60 national sports and medical organizations, including Northwest Florida’s own Taylor Haugen Foundation, Youth Sports Safety Month is designed to raise awareness and educate parents, coaches, players, and the community about the importance of sports safety.

Created by Brian and Kathy Haugen after the death of their son Taylor from a traumatic abdominal injury during the 2008 Niceville High School Kick-Off Classic, The Taylor Haugen Foundation has been recognizing ands rewarding student athletes throughout Northwest Florida. The Foundation’s Youth Equipment Sports Safety (YESS) program expands the breadth and depth of the Foundation’s mission and vision by helping schools outfit and equip their teams with the most technologically advanced, next generation equipment available. Additionally, the YESS program is working with experts at the University of West Florida on an epidemiology study aimed at tracking the number and types of youth sports injuries in Northwest Florida.

The YESS program recently received a generous grant from the Dugas Family Foundation which will allow the Foundation to equip Walton and Okaloosa County schools with this equipment free of charge. Prior to the grant, participating schools were required to match the Foundation’s contribution. Through this expanded program, the Foundation hopes to have all local middle and high school football teams outfitted for the 2014 season.

There are resources for parents and coaches of young athletes available to help us navigate these increasingly complicated waters (or fields, as the case maybe).  If your young athlete shows signs of pain when using a body part you should encourage him or her to be checked out by appropriate training staff. Parents should keep an eye out for difficulty sleeping or breathing, headaches, dizziness, or stiffness in joints and muscles. Using proper, well -fitting equipment, warming up and cooling down before and after a practice or game, and staying hydration can go a long way towards preventing both traumatic and over use sports injuries.   Of course, the sooner an injury is diagnosed the sooner treatment and rehab can begin, getting your athlete back to playing sooner.

For more information about The Taylor Haugen Foundation and the YESS program, log on to the Foundation’s website at www.TaylorhAugen.org. For more information about Youth Sports Safety, follow a live Tweet conversation at 8 p.m. April 23 using the #SportsSafety. See you at the ball field.

Follow Susan Moody on Twitter @susanjmoody and visit her blog, The Emerald Coast Insider, at www.emeraldcoasttreasurebox.com.