Sports are fun until safety becomes an issue.
In light of two incidences in Shoreham-Wading River where children where harmed while playing sports, Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) hosted a Youth Sports Safety Forum on Wednesday, Sept. 30 to raise awareness of the issue.
The death of 16-year-old Tom Cutinella, who died last year after a collision on the football field, and an incident involving 15-year-old Jack Crowley, who was revived after he was struck in the chest with a baseball at the batting cages, sparked an even greater desire to help prevent these incidents from occurring,
Despite the poor turnout, as about 20 community members attended, the forum’s goal remained the same: to educate the public about keeping student-athletes safe on and off the field. The forum consisted of several speakers, including Anker, County Executive Steve Bellone (D), school sports coaches and athletic professionals.
Although student-athlete safety is traditionally perceived as the coaches’ sole responsibility, guest speakers like Rick Mercurio said parents and players are also responsible for an athlete’s safety. Mercurio is currently part of the Federation of International Lacrosse’s Development Committee and used to coach the Sachem High School boys’ lacrosse team.
He also admitted that coaches have the power to make a student feel stressed or happy.
“We forget that when we talk about safety … it’s not just about an athlete’s physical safety,” Mercurio said during the forum. “It’s mental safety as well.”
While athletes may jeopardize their own safety during practices or games if they feel pressured to go above and beyond for their coach, Frank McCoy, an orthopedic physical therapist from Advanced Sports Physical Therapy in East Setauket, said parents are also a source of pressure for student-athletes. He mentioned some parents may push their children to reach the professional level in their sport. He added that that pressure causes young athletes to surpass their own limits.
“They don’t want to necessarily mention that they have pain or that they’ve had some discomfort during practice or a game because they don’t want to be taken out of the game,” McCoy said during the forum.
According to McCoy, 90 percent of athletes sustain an injury while playing sports and 50 percent continue to play when they are injured. Injuries from overusing parts of the body becomes a concern when athletes are pushing past their pain to appease parents or coaches. These types of injuries are usually preventable provided that athletes do preventative exercises, which they don’t always learn from their coaches or parents.
McCoy also mentioned that athletes should not play more hours than their age and should not play one sport year-round or multiple sports in one season.
Aside from resting the body, Jeremy Thode, the athletic director at Center Moriches High School, said positive reinforcement is also vital to an athlete’s safety. Student-athletes may suffer added stress if they are faced with degrading comments like “you throw like a girl.”
“We’re telling little boys — number one that they’re not good enough in their performance, but we are also saying negative things about girls,” Thode said.
The idea is that these comments may encourage young athletes to ignore their mental or physical discomfort or both to prove their worth in their sport or sports.
Kym Laube, executive director of Human Understanding & Growth Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Westhampton Beach that provides educational and recreational programs for the youth in Suffolk County, acknowledged how drugs and alcohol may affect players — especially those who may not have family support or a healthy living environment.
Laube said they can’t build treatment centers big enough or fast enough to accommodate the magnitude of athletes struggling with alcohol or drug issues. According to Laube, alcohol is still the number one killer of high school students. Combatting this issue, especially concerning student-athletes, is a group effort since athletes may drink to relieve stress and anxiety, but are more susceptible to injuries 24 hours after they drink.
“We know that if coaches take a strong policy — if families take a strong policy, we begin to stop saying it’s just kids being kids,” Laube said during the forum. “It’s about wanting to keep them safe on the playing field.”
Anker not only agreed with the forum’s guest speakers on their concerns and viewpoints regarding safety in sports, but reemphasized the importance of keeping athletes safe and informing the public how to ensure the safety of young athletes.
“As a community, we must learn from past incidences and go forward to create safe programs for our young athletes,” Anker said in an email. “Everyone has the ability to protect our kids, however, if they do not have important information regarding sports safety, our children may be at risk for injury. By providing valuable information we can limit injuries on the field and keep our kids safe. I will continue to work with our sports experts to bring their information to communities across Suffolk County.”
This version corrects the spelling of Jeremy Thode’s name.