You’ve probably heard in the news about the long-term impact of sports injuries, especially traumatic head injuries. But your kid wants to play soccer – or lacrosse – or football – or hockey! What do you do? One thing you can do is make sure your progeny’s noggin is protected. Learn more about catastrophic injury risk and safety precautions for school sports right here.


A high school sports fatality is horrific news – especially for the family involved. It is, however, not common. According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research (NCCSIR) located at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, there have been 2,101 catastrophic injuries during the 31 year period from Fall 1982 through the Spring of 2013. A catastrophic injury is defined as one with severe injury to the spine, spinal cord, or brain, and may also include skull or spinal fractures.

Catastrophic injuries have serious, long-term effects on the victim and can often put serious stress on the victim’s family due to a potential lifetime of rehabilitation and medical bills.
  • 80% of the catastrophic injuries were in high school sports.
  • Wrestling accounted for the highest proportion of direct injuries at the high school level.
  • Basketball accounted for the greatest proportion of indirect catastrophic injuries at both the high school and college levels.

When you consider that there have been 2,101 catastrophic injuries during 31 years, and that an estimated 7.8 million students are in high school sports annually, you can see that the overall risk is small. And yet, each child who dies or is permanently injured, is one too many. 


Many sports require helmets, including baseball and softball (batter and catcher’s helmets), football, hockey, lacrosse, polo and soccer. Other sports, such as wrestling, require protective headgear. Still other recreational activities, such as biking and motorcycling, may require helmets by law, depending upon your state. And there are still other recreational activities that don’t require helmets, but for which protective headgear is recommended, such as skiing, skateboarding, surfing and rollerblading.

When enrolling your student in a high school sport, make certain that the school follows these guidelines recommended by the NCCSIR.
  • Mandatory medical examinations prior to sport team enrollment
  • Training personnel who emphasize proper and appropriate physical conditioning
  • A certified athletic trainer on staff
  • A written emergency procedure plan to deal with catastrophic injury
  • Well trained athletic personnel with the safest and best equipment available
  • Strict enforcement of game rules and administrative regulations
  • Coaches with the ability to teach the proper fundamental skills of the specific sport
  • Weight loss in wrestling to make weight for a match can be dangerous and cause serious injury or death. Coaches should be aware of safety precautions and rules associated with this practice.
  • Continued safety research in athletics (rules, facilities, equipment)
  • All athletes and athletic personnel should follow the state, NFHS, and NCAA policies related to concussion and return to play.
As you can imagine, when there are millions of young students involved in sports, the sports equipment business is huge and the manufacturers want you to buy new gear. Keep in mind that hand-me-down equipment may not be up to current standards, so be cautious when outfitting your son or daughter with second-hand gear.

Sports-specific recommendations for helmets and other protective gear is published by National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment.

With proper safety gear, the sport can be all the fun and fitness and competition it was meant to be.


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