What is this infatuation with going faster, higher and more dangerously than ever before?
Current numbers are significant. In the United States participation in baseball is down 28 percent since 1987, to 9.7 million players. Basketball participation has declined 17 percent from its 1997 peak. Since 1987, involvement in softball has dropped off 37 percent and volleyball has plunged 36 percent.
At the same time, skateboarding has surged 49 percent, to 14 million U.S. participants, and building a skate park is a growing trend in community development. Snowboarding now claims 7.2 million participants, up 51 percent from 1999. Mountain biking has an estimated 8.6 million participants, making it the second-most popular extreme sport.
Extreme sports can at times tax small local medical systems. In one study at the Fort William Mountain Bike World Championship in Scotland, 30 percent (52) of the 173 competitors in cross-country, downhill, and 4-by-4 events were injured – two seriously enough to require hospitalization.
So, are extreme sports harmful enough to be worthy of opposition?
With today’s obesity epidemic, any sport that gets kids (and adults) off the couch for some real exertion may have long-term benefits. Extreme sports offer an opportunity to challenge and express yourself. There exists an air of cooperation, without specific winning and losing that may help some children’s development of self-esteem. There is little organization into teams or leagues, and no overzealous parents screaming at their kids through the backstop fence.
While extreme motocross and base jumping may be exceptions, the true injury rate for many extreme sports is quite low. A British Journal of Sports Medicine study reported only 139 skateboard injuries requiring medical attention over four years, despite fairly significant participation in the sport. Snowboarding injury rates were even lower, with fewer than four injuries for every 1,000 boarder days. In both cases, most injuries occurred during “failed trick attempts.” Rock climbing, particularly at indoor gyms, boasts a very low injury rate of about three injuries per 1,000 hours.
Some studies indicate that most people injured while participating in extreme sports were not wearing any type of protective gear. If you’re undertaking high-risk maneuvers, wear whatever combination of helmet, elbow pads, knee pads and wrist guards is needed to keep you safe!
Despite this anything that keeps kids moving and excited about being outdoors, instead of sitting inside eating chips and playing video games is likely a very good thing.