Study: Most Sudden Deaths in Youth Sports Occur in Basketball, Not Football

Youth Sports
The Associated Press

Few sports topics have gotten more media attention in recent years than concussions in football and all the various potentially deadly conditions that could result from them.

However, as a recent study has shown, when it comes to sudden deaths in American youth sports, basketball is by far the most deadly.

According to USA Today Sports:

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association found that sudden cardiac deaths was the most common condition to kill a youth athlete in middle school or a youth or recreation league. The vast majority were boys at an average age of 13 and two-thirds took place at practice, not in a game.

There were 45 deaths over the nine-year period NATA studied. Sixteen of them were on the basketball court (35.6%), seven apiece while playing baseball or football (15.6%) and six occurred while playing soccer (13.4%).

NATA’s study focused on youth athletes in middle school, youth and recreation leagues. In the study, the organization noted that comprehensive reports have been made at the high school and collegiate level, but this is the first of its kind around the middle-school age group.

One of the findings that stood out, beyond the most deaths happening to boys on a basketball court, was the rate at which it increased over the years. While there was an average of five deaths a year, there were 11 such occurrences in 2015 alone.

As USA Today Sports notes, an increase is participation plays a part in that increase, however, death rates also increased over that time.

“NATA uses a stat it calls ‘athlete-years,’ which is simply one athlete participating in one sport in a calendar year.

“Over the course of the study, there were 1.83 deaths per 10 million athlete-years, but in 2015, it increased to 3.84 deaths per 10 million,” USA Today Sports reports.

While the NATA study focuses on sudden deaths, and most studies involving football focus on deaths or serious impairment over a prolonged period of time, it is notable that there appears to be no media outrage demanding that kids stop playing basketball. The way one would expect if this study had shown that more sudden deaths had occurred while playing football.

Participation in youth football has been declining for nearly ten years, primarily, though not exclusively, because parents are concerned about their children suffering concussions, and all the terrible side-effects they’ve heard about in the media. Yet, high school basketball and soccer have either held steady over that time, despite the fact that they’re more deadly at the youth level.

News that most youth sports deaths occur while playing basketball will likely come as a shock to many in the media. It would likely come as a shock to many parents as well, considering what the media has told them about football.

Sadly, most parents won’t get to read about that.

Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter @themightygwinn


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