Parents' injury fears stop kids playing sports

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More than a quarter of parents of primary school-aged children stop or discourage their children playing sports because of injury fears, new research has found.

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) study of almost 6,000 parents and caregivers from across the state found that more than one in three parents of boys prevented their son from playing sport (35 per cent) compared with one in six (17 per cent) of parents of girls.

A research team led by Soufiane Boufous, of the NSW Injury Risk Management Research Centre (IRMRC) at UNSW reported in The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health that among boys, the most commonly discouraged sports were the various football codes - rugby league (23 per cent), rugby union (7 per cent), Australian Rules football (3 per cent) and soccer (2 per cent). Among girls, the most commonly discouraged sports were rollerblading (3 per cent), rugby league (2 per cent) and soccer (2 per cent).

Parents' fears are supported by childhood sports injury data, according to leading injury expert and director of the IRMRC, Professor Caroline Finch. "Sports most commonly associated with injuries among NSW high school students are rugby union, rugby league, gymnastics, netball, hockey and Australian Rules football."

Professor Finch says parents are influenced by how old and how able-bodied their child is: "Parents of children aged nine to 12 years were 60 per cent more likely to prevent or discourage sports and activities than parents of children aged five to eight years.

"Parents whose child had a disability were 40 per cent more likely to prevent or discourage sports and activities.

"On the other hand, fathers, parents of girls and homes where English is the only language spoken were significantly less likely to prevent or discourage sports and physical activities," she said.

Efforts should be taken to modify sports, particularly some football codes, to reduce parents' legitimate fears that children risk injury when playing them, according to Professor Finch.

"Every effort should be made to eliminate injuries from sports and other activities. Given parents' influence over kids' participation in sports and increasing evidence of childhood obesity, I think it's a real issue for concern."

According to the survey, the most common sports and physical activities played by boys were bike riding, soccer, swimming, cricket, rollerblading, tennis and rugby league. Among girls, the most common sports and activities were bike riding, swimming, rollerblading, netball, scootering, soccer and tennis.

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