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How Many Injuries Are Too Many?


The sheer amount of injuries suffered by college athletes can be a surprise to athletes and their parents. Many young people go through their formative years without ever getting more seriously injured than a scraped knee or a twisted ankle, only to find themselves repeatedly tearing tendons, sitting out entire seasons due to ACL and MCL problems, and getting their knees ‘scoped’ as a result of the pounding their bodies are suddenly taking.

For others, injuries in college are nothing new. Plenty of kids have had more surgeries before 18 than their parents will undergo in a lifetime in an effort to get back on the court or the field. For them, the pain and the pressure of rehab are the means to an end of achieving an athletic scholarship and the college education that comes with it.

But there is a growing movement towards the cessation of athletics at an early age due to mounting injuries. Modern medical science is a marvelous thing and can repair injuries that even 20 years ago would have been career-ending, but the question remains, at what cost?

Here are three questions to think about if your young athlete is considering giving up their sport of choice altogether upon entering their college years, or sticking it out despite an ever-growing list of injuries.

  1. Are there long-term injury risks? Having your knee hurt for a day or two after every soccer match is one thing; having it hurt every day when you get up, walk around, take the stairs, or play hide and seek with your kid sister is something very different. Even if there is something enormous at stake, like a pro playing career, we only have one body, and if it is breaking down at such an early age, what are the far-reaching effects? Does athletic success supercede not walking with a cane at age 25?
  2. Is playing still fun? Think back to when your child was six years old kicking a soccer ball around in the backyard with her dad. There were smiles and laughs every moment. Fast-forward a few years to her first tournament with a club team. Winning the trophy at the end of the day meant a pizza party and a medal around her neck. More smiles, more laughs. But when injuries mount up, athletes spend more time trying to get into shape just to be able to practice; they may not even see much time on the playing field.  It’s hard for players and parents to be objective in situations like this. We get so close to the sport that it seems like a part of our family instead of an extracurricular activity. If injuries are causing your child loads of stress, pain, and frustration, it might be time to have a talk about being happy versus being an athlete.
  3. The danger of concussions. There’s a reason why superstar football players like Marshawn Lynch and Calvin Johnson cut their playing days short, leaving millions of dollars on the table. Concussions are being exposed more and more every day as one of the most dangerous long-term injuries that can be sustained in athletics, and it’s not just football.  Soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, wrestling, ice hockey, field hockey, and lacrosse are all being linked as sports where athletes are susceptible to concussions with long-lasting effects. Concussions have been shown to severely deteriorate the brain’s capacity to perform high-level functions over time and can lead to severe depression, violent mood swings, and suicidal thoughts. Treat a concussion like you would a gunshot wound. One is deadly serious. More than one could be fatal.


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Dr. Richard Ginsburg
Dr. Richard D. Ginsburg is a clinical psychologist and sport psychology consultant. He is co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital PACES Institute of Sport Psychology and is an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ginsburg also serves as staff psychologist in the Newton Wellesley Hospital Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department and is the director of Behavioral Health for the Boston Red Sox. Dr. Ginsburg offers a broad range of clinical services to children, adolescents and adults and conducts youth and professional sport research. He is author of the book, Whose Game Is It, Anyway, A guide to helping your child get the most from sports, organized by age and stage and has served as a sport psychology consultant for a variety of professional and college-level sports teams, including lacrosse, soccer, water polo and ice hockey at Harvard University. He is a member of the US Lacrosse Safety and Science Committee and provides talks and consultations nationally to youth, high school, and collegiate athletic programs. Dr. Ginsburg played lacrosse and soccer at Kenyon College, where he won all-conference and all-Midwest honors. He is also a former independent school teacher and coach. He lives with his wife, Teri, and their two children in Newton, Massachusetts.