The Ten Most Dangerous Sports for Kids

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I’m a nervous mom. I don’t want my kid taking up figure skating, ice hockey, or even field hockey.

But I was surprised to find out the top sport for sending kids to the emergency room—according to a Loyola University Study based on 2005 data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission—is basketball.


Turns out, kids who play basketball at school or even in the driveway are at risk of the same knee injuries that derail NBA careers. The good news is most injuries can be prevented with proper training and supervision. And catastrophic injuries in kids’ sports—think little Bonnie on her pony in Gone With the Wind—are extremely rare.

There are other surprises on Loyola’s top ten list besides basketball and even more shocking, some sports that are traditionally considered dangerous (hockey, anyone?) are notably absent from the list.

1. Basketball
More than half a million kids went to the ER in just one year with injuries sustained playing hoops. Damage to the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is a common injury and any sport involving twisting, jumping, pivoting, squatting, or making sudden stops puts kids at risk. Proper coaching is a must.

2. Bicycling
Yes, that favorite pastime sent more kids—485,669 to be exact—to the ER than football. Wearing a helmet greatly reduces risk as does educating children about the dangers of riding in traffic.

3. Football
This sport sent more than 418,200 kids to the ER. Sports injury statistics vary based on methodology, and the Center for Injury Research and Policy found football to be the leading cause of sports-related injuries among kids.

4. Soccer
The ball is soft, but the sport can be dangerous, with about 175,000 soccer-playing kids seeking aid at an ER. One culprit is portable soccer goals, which should be securely anchored to the ground.

5. Baseball
Today’s kids train hard and hit the ball hard, which is why some 155,000 Little Leaguers ended up in emergency rooms. Children should wear proper protective gear and be taught how to safely slide into bases and other fundamentals. With all warm-weather sports, heat exhaustion is also a threat.

6. Skateboarding
They don’t call extreme sports “extreme” for nothing. More than 112,000 kids turned up in emergency rooms with skateboarding injuries. The National Safety Council recommends the use of protective gear, such as closed, slip-resistant shoes, helmets, and specially designed padding for elbows, knees, and hands.

7. Trampoline
It’s not really a sport—or is it?— but 108,000 kids went to the ER for trampoline-related injuries. Newer models with nets to keep kids from falling off are safer. Backyard trampolines are for jumping, not stunts. More adventurous kids need a qualified trainer and a gym.

8. Softball
If a fast-traveling baseball can cause serious injury, so can a fast-traveling softball. More than 106,000 kids ended up in the emergency room with softball injuries.

9. Swimming and Diving
Anytime you mix kids and water, you have potential for an injury. Swimming and diving accidents sent 82,300 kids to the ER. Head and spinal cord injuries are a risk when kids are diving. Make sure kids know how deep the water is and that all pools, lakes, and beaches have qualified lifeguards.

10. Horseback riding
ER docs treated more than 73,500 kids for injuries related to horseback riding. A British study found serious head and spinal injuries were most common when jumping.

Other sports that prompted ER visits: weightlifting, volleyball, golf, roller skating, wrestling, gymnastics, inline skating, tennis, and track and field. 

One sport too dangerous for a hovering mom like me didn’t make the Loyola list: cheerleading. The Consumer Product Safety Commission names this the most injury-prone sport for girls. A recent Ohio State University study identified gymnastics as the most dangerous sport for girls, with nearly 27,000 gymnasts hospitalized each year.

The deadliest sport: riding an all-terrain vehicle. There were 740 deaths in 2003, and one-third of those were kids under sixteen, according to the safety agency.

With the right training, supervision, and equipment, most sports can be considered safe for children. Parents of kids in extreme sports point out that danger is all around us, and you can’t raise your child in a bubble. I concur—in theory. I’m trying to adopt a mellow mama attitude, but I think you should minimize risk when possible.

The takeaway message for me is that even seemingly safe sports like soccer and golf can cause injury, but most of those injuries are survivable and preventable. Still, I may introduce my daughter to croquet.


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