Sports injury expert warns kids are being 'driven to the brink'

Vel Sakthivel

A leading sports injury expert says many young athletes are being 'driven to the brink' by coaches.

Vel Sakthivel, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Southampton General Hospital, has warned the pressure on budding youngsters to perform is contributing to a rise in injuries among under-16s.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of sports injuries in children each year, ranging from serious ligament damage and fractures, to strains and sprains, and the pressure applied by coaches is to blame on many occasions,” he said.

“Kids are told if they want to make it big they need to put up with the aches, pain and niggling injuries – almost a ‘toughen you up’ culture – and that is driving many to the brink of serious damage to their bodies.”

Mr Sakthivel, who recently launched a dedicated paediatric sports injury clinic at Southampton General Hospital, is concerned at the irresponsible behaviour displayed by some coaches – which he has even witnessed in his own treatment room.

He explained: “I have encountered coaches who attend consultations with children and tell me injuries are not possible on equipment such as trampolines because they have a soft surface and patients who come to me and say their coaches have urged them to continue despite complaints of pain.

“I also often see many who aren’t educated on the need for moderation and it worries me that some coaches at very competitive levels show a lack of understanding of the implication of injury to the growing body.

"The benefits of strenuous sporting activities should be balanced against children’s health needs and professional coaches need to be aware of that.”

Mr Sakthivel says he is not deterring children from participating in sporting activity, but urges parents and children to be cautious and have realistic expectations.

“It is a difficult situation for parents and one that is understandable,” he said. “If someone comes and tells you your child has a skill and they want to nurture it and make them the best they can be, of course you would say yes.

“Sport is great and, with the Olympics around the corner, uptake is likely to increase heavily in a number of areas, but the best young athletes are those with the right balance and educated mentoring and that is what I urge parents to look for.”

Posted on Tuesday 26 April 2011