13 Jan

Kids Who Engage in More FREE PLAY Get Fewer Injuries When They Play Organized Sports

Here’s a cool study from Loyola University about something that doesn’t surprise me at all: The more that kids play on their own, the less likely they are to get injured while playing their organized sports.

A press release about the study was titled, “To Protect Against Injuries, Young Athletes May Need to Play More Just for Fun.” It says:

One way to avoid injuries in young athletes may be for them to simply spend more time in unorganized free play such as pick-up games, a Loyola University Medical Study has found.

In a first-of-its-kind study, sports medicine specialist Dr. Neeru Jayanthi and colleagues found that injured young athletes who play a single sport such as tennis spent much less time in free play and unorganized sports than uninjured athletes who play tennis and many other sports.

In this collaborative study, Jayanthi followed 891 young athletes who were seen at Loyola University Health System and Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago clinics. Participants included 618 athletes who sought treatment for sports injuries and 273 uninjured athletes who came in for sports physicals. Study participants included 124 tennis players (74 of whom played tennis exclusively).

Among single-sport tennis players, the ones who suffered injuries spent 12.6 hours per week playing organized tennis and only 2.4 hours per week in free play and recreation. By comparison, the uninjured tennis players spent only 9.7 hours per week playing organized sports, and 4.3 hours a week in free play and recreation, even while having a similar total number of weekly hours. In other words, the injured tennis players spent more than 5 times as much time playing organized tennis as they did in free play and recreation, while the uninjured players spent only 2.6 times as much time playing organized tennis as they did in free play and recreation.

What I love about these findings is that, once again, fun that kids make on their own — i.e., goofing around — turns out to be EXCEEDINGLY BENEFICIAL in the non-goof-around world of organized sports. The same way RECESS — which looks like goofing around — turns out to be BENEFICIAL to students in the non-goofing-around business of buckling down to school work.

Maybe what kids need is a little less over-scheduling and hovering — at least, if we want them to become safer and smarter.