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Research review suggests benefits outweigh the risks of injury in junior sport

Research review suggests benefits outweigh the risks of injury in junior sport
January 20, 2014

A review of published scientific literature on the rates of injury in junior football codes in Australia and New Zealand suggest that the benefits of junior sports far outweigh the risks of injury.

While sensationalised headlines often suggest that participation in junior sport, particularly junior football codes, might be dangerous, Dr Tony Carter of SLE Worldwide Australia believes that participation in the football codes is relatively safe compared to other popular organised sports and recreational and daily living activities.

In a feature, 'Bumps and Bruises' in the most recent issue of Australasian Leisure Management, Dr Carter, a Risk Analyst and Statistician for SLE Worldwide Australia, presents the findings of a review of the published scientific literature of the rates of injury in junior football codes in Australia and New Zealand.

In the feature, Dr Carter, a biostatistician, epidemiologist and Doctor of Public Health, writes "occasional bumps and bruises are expected when children play sport, yet high profile injuries, either those that receive national media attention or involving elite level athletes, can have a major influence on the sports that parents choose for their children.

"However, the absence of robust evidence of exposure-based rates of injury in the public domain may unduly influence parental perception of the relative safety of participation in specific sporting codes.

"Physical activity offers numerous physical and mental health benefits for children, as well as the opportunity to master new motor skills. Team sports in particular, offer participants the opportunity to develop social skills such as social inclusion, peer support and self-esteem. Nonetheless, participation in contact sports such as the football codes is associated with an increased risk of injury, and is an important source of morbidity in Australia.

"Additionally, injury due to participation in sport is an important - significant - barrier to participation in physical activity. While the overall magnitude of the burden and cost of sporting injury to the public health system in Australia has previously been documented, much of the published literature on sporting injuries is restricted to reporting frequencies or rates in clinical or population-based settings, often in quite specific geographical, social and economically diverse locations.

"Accordingly, the risk of specific sports relative to other sports, and more importantly, other routine activities of daily living, is poorly understood."

The results of Dr Carter's review demonstrate that:

• Participation in the football codes is relatively safe compared to other popular organised sports and recreational and daily living activities;
• Participation in organised sport is preferable due to the demonstrated risk management policies and procedures, such as safe play, coaching, refereeing, and first aid, compared to unstructured sport and leisure activities.
• There is no evidence to support the choice of a particular junior football code in Australia or New Zealand over any other on the basis of risk of injury;
• No valid comparison of the relative safety of participation in the respective junior football codes is possible due to significant methodological differences between the available published studies;
• Further research using standardised methodologies is required to determine the relative safety of participation in the respective junior football codes;
• Further published research of football is required to fully detail the rates of injury in those sports.

While unlikely to make headlines in the popular media, Dr Carter's review underlines that participation in the four football codes - rugby league, rugby union, football (soccer) and AFL – is relatively safe and there is no evidence to support the choice of a particular junior football code in Australia on the basis of risk or injury.

He concludes "I would suggest that the benefits of junior sports far outweigh the risks of injury, with evidence-based coaching techniques and appropriate management of minor injuries going a long way to mitigating the risks of participation."

The SLE Group underwrites Group Personal Accident, Public Liability, Management Liability and Property Insurance for a range of clients across a wide range of sports including Australian football, rugby league, rugby onion and football in Australia.

To read 'Bumps and Bruises' click here to subscribe to Australasian Leisure Management.

Dr Tony Carter and SLE Worldwide Australia Pty Ltd can be contacted on 02 9249 4850, E: enquiries@sleworldwide.com.au

Click here to contact SLE Worldwide Australia via their entry in the Australasian Leisure Management Supplier Directory.

Image used for illustrative purposes only.

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