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Statistics reveal ‘massive surge’ in sports injuries among New Zealand youth

Statistics reveal ‘massive surge’ in sports injuries among New Zealand youth
July 17, 2019

Statistics released by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) have revealed an alarming spike in sports injuries in children in the 10 to 14 years age-group over the past decade.

Data released by the ACC show a 60% surge in sports-related injuries in this age group - double the increase in any of any other age category - with the linked to early specialisation in sport and over-training at a young age.

Isaac Carlson, ACC's Head of Injury Prevention, says the dramatic increase can in part be attributed to the growing professionalisation of junior sport, advising "more structured sports training and competition means kids are being exposed to higher-intensity, higher-volume training from an earlier age, which can increase the risk of repetitive overuse and fatigue-related injuries.

"Too much high-intensity training reduces the energy available for growth and development. This can affect not only peak bone mass and the onset of puberty but a number of other important body systems which can have lifelong consequences for injury and physical and mental illness."

Carlson's comments reflect a global trend towards young people specialising at an earlier age in a single sport, which according to the Australasian College of Sport and Exercise Physicians (ACSEP), is contributing to early burn out, loss of motivation and potential mental health issues in later life.

Dr Dan Exeter, Sport and Exercise Physician and Medical Director for Athletics New Zealand, said a main driver for that was the belief that early specialisation in one sport leads to an increased chance of sporting success later in life.

Dr Exeter advised "coaches and parents believe they are doing the right thing; however, there is no evidence to support this in sports where peak performance is attained in adulthood. On the contrary, a growing body of evidence suggests that athletes who maintain a broader sporting base before they specialise are more likely to be successful in their chosen sport, as well as maintain a lifelong love of sport."

The ACSEP position statement recommends that children should not specialise in a single sport until at least the age of 12 years.

ACC tracked injury volume across 'priority sports' (rugby, football, netball, basketball, league, gymnastics, and touch rugby) across the decade from 2008 to 2017 and found the biggest increase in injuries were in the under 10 (63%) and 10-14 (60%) age groups.

The growing body of evidence of the dangers of early specialisation in sport was the impetus for a Sport NZ's Talent Plan, which was launched three years ago.

Alex Chiet, National Sport Development Consultant at Sport NZ, noted "too many adults think kids should focus on one sport – that early specialisation and early success will set kids up to be great athletes in the years to come. In reality, that's very rarely the case. Most top athletes have grown up playing multiple sports and many delayed specialisation until well into their teens or even longer.

"Through our work with sports we are seeing increasing recognition of this and other ways in which too much pressure is being applied too early. We need to keep young athletes enjoying their sport, developing their skills and staying healthy. Without those things, they'll never realise their full potential."

On the back of the latest injury statistics, ACC is promoting a balance of sporting activity with Carlson saying parents should follow a weekly training guideline of "one hour for every year in age as a way for young kids to avoid being sidelined by injury.

"There's a number of reasons for the spike in injuries, but a growing concern is that too much sport may be just as harmful for kids as not getting enough exercise. We're encouraging parents to use a one hour for every year in age guideline, where the amount of organised sport per week – both training and competition – should not exceed their child's age.

"We're finding young kids are increasingly in one of two camps: those not doing enough exercise who may be putting themselves at risk of injury because they aren't conditioned for activity; and, in growing numbers, those that are engaging in higher levels of sport and training and aren't getting enough of a break."

Related Articles

1st October 2018 - ACC and ExerciseNZ combine to reduce gym accidents

8th February 2018 - Accident Compensation Corporation notes rise in gym-related injuries

11th May 2016 - New Zealand study into children’s rugby injuries on artificial turf

25th March 2015 - NZREPS highlights the need to be physically prepared for sport

19th March 2015 - New Zealand Football tackles $25 million injury issue

5th November 2014 - Football codes the leading cause of hospitalised sports injury

15th January 2013 - ACC urges Kiwis to enjoy exercise without injury

15th February 2012 - School sporting injuries masked by lack of data

24th August 2009 - High Risk Sports Costs ACC

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