Alabama leads effort to reduce youth sports injuries

Alabama leads effort to reduce youth sports injuries
Thought leaders in the areas of youth sports, public health, sports medicine and youth coaching discuss the role of youth coaches in mitigating the CDC-defined youth sports injury epidemic during a panel discussion at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham. (Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

A group of athletes, doctors and public health professionals from Alabama are leading a national effort to reduce sports injuries among youths.

That group, called the CoachSafely Foundation, hosted a panel discussion Friday at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham to discuss better ways to train youth coaches how to prevent and recognize sports injuries such as concussions, heat-related illnesses and overuse injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls the rise of concussions in youth sports an epidemic, which was echoed by Orthopedic Surgeon & Sports Medicine Specialist Dr. James Andrews.

“There’s been a tenfold increase since the year 2000 in injuries in youth sports, and these are not just minor injuries — these are what we call adult sports injuries that used to only occur in college and professional athletes,” Andrews said.

A team effort to prevent and recognize youth sports injuries from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Andrews referenced a 2014 report conducted by Safe Kids Worldwide, which said:

  • 1.24 million children were seen in emergency rooms for sports injuries in 2013
  • 90 percent of athletes said they have been injured while playing a sport
  • 54 percent said they had played injured
  • Less than 50 percent of coaches said they have received certification on how to prevent and recognize sports injuries.

Margaret White, Public Relations director at Alabama Power, is one of those who played injured in high school and was later treated by Andrews. She told her story to the group Friday because she wants to see a bigger support system for youth athletes.

“It’s not just engaged parents, but it’s knowledgeable coaches, doctors, community leaders — certainly not the desires of stubborn, short-sighted young athletes,” White said.

Drew Ferguson, president of the CoachSafely Foundation and a director at Children’s of Alabama, said the group is committed to carrying this message nationally.

“We’ve got the nation’s attention by some of the people who are here today,” Ferguson said. “This foundation is going to give us a tremendous opportunity to create a standard of care both here in Alabama and throughout the country.”

Wayne Moss, executive director of the National Council of Youth Sports, said he was “blown away” when he first learned about the work of the CoachSafely Foundation.

“I don’t think the people outside of these doors really know what’s going on,” Moss said. “I don’t think they get something miraculous has happened here. There will be a day that we look back and see that youth safety started in Alabama.”

Other panelists echoed the importance of the work.

“When I got the call about CoachSafely, it’s a no-brainer,” said Izell Reese, executive director of NFL Flag Football. “Youth safety in youth sports is just as important as a background check.”

“We want to be a part of this because these kids are what will feed into our middle schools and high schools,” said Alvin Briggs, associate executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association. “If they’re not taught right, then what do we have when they get to our programs?”

“We as Park and Rec professionals want to lead and we want to be difference makers as we move forward,” said Natalie Norman, executive director of the Alabama Recreation and Parks Association.

One panel participant who can speak from a position of success is Jimmy Robinson, the University of Alabama football team doctor.

“I live at the other extreme of what we’re trying to get going here: I live in the utopia,” Robinson said. “I’ve got all these resources around me and the ability to help talk care of our athletes at the highest level. At the coach safely level, at the youth sports level, it’s just the opposite, and that’s one thing we need to do. Preparedness and prevention is the key.”

To see the the entire panel discussion, watch the video below. To learn more about the CoachSafely Foundation, visit

Youth Sports Safety: A Community Huddle from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

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