With the rise in popularity of youth soccer, concerns have been raised regarding safety. Studies have suggested that elite soccer is associated with a high incidence and severity of injury. On the other hand, as discussed on the Science of Soccer Online, soccer is an ideal activity for young children to develop fitness and coordination. But, is there a risk of injury for these kids? Unfortunately most of the studies looking at injury rates in soccer have focused on adults and elite players and there is very little information about injuries in young children. A new study published by the American Journal of Sports Medicine finds that the risk of injury for players 6-16 years old may be much lower and argues that soccer is a very safe sport for children.
Researchers from the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center analyzed injury reports from local soccer clubs. They focused on children 6 to 16 years of age playing organized 5- and 7-a-side soccer. A total of 121 teams and 1879 players were followed over the course of a season. Research physical therapists were assigned to the teams to record, monitor and evaluate all injuries.
The researchers found that the injury rate was very low. For players 6-12 years old, the rate was less than 2 injuries per 1000 hours of play. For older players, 13-16 years old, the rate was slightly higher but still very low. Most of the injuries were considered mild and there were very few injuries that required players to miss more than three weeks of play. Injuries usually involved contact with another player. Ankle and thigh injuries were the most often injured body part. Give the amount of play, team size and injury rate, coaches could anticipate about 1 mild injury per team per season.
Based on this information, the researchers conclude that soccer is a very safe sport for children. Children playing small sided games experience few injuries and rarely experience a serious injury. It seems that soccer is an ideal sport for young children. Soccer programs can enhance both fitness and motor skill development of children. We now know that that can be accomplished at very little risk of injury.
Froholdt A, Olsen OE, Bahr R (2009) Low risk of injuries among children playing organized soccer. American Journal of Sports Medicine, in press (doi: 10.1177/0363546508330132)