Vox has a brief little informer on the relative risk of injury in high school sports. I think it is useful, but reading the definition of injury makes me wary about the data source:
This data on high school sport safety was included in a new study in the journal Pediatrics. The study primarily focused on the relative dangers of cheerleading in America. Turns out cheerleading has lower injury rates than most other high school sports, and tumbles cause more injuries than pyramids. Who knew?
The metric is injuries per 1,000 athletic exposures. An athletic exposure is defined as one athlete “participating in one practice, competition, or performance.” Injuries are defined as anything that required the attention of a physician or athletic trainer, [my emphasis] or kept the athlete off the field for at least one day.
This definition makes me cautious about the data as I know a few things have changed dramatically in high school sports in my time refereeing. First, more games are far more likely to have a trainer available today than when I first started to referee. Most high school soccer leagues won’t start a game today without a medical professional on the sideline. Ten years ago, that was not the case.
Secondly, the direction that soccer referees have been getting on responding to injuries has changed dramatically in the past couple of years. Now, if we suspect anything, we stop play and get a trainer on. This applies to high school only.
Unfortunately, the instruction and expectation is variable between sports and genders.
Last week, I was refereeing an off-season girls high school indoor game. A girl was hit in the face with the ball. She looked briefly stunned as the ball went off her nose. We stopped play, and called for a coach to get the player off the field. If this was a regular season game, a trainer would have come out, pulled the player for 30 seconds, and made her available to re-enter play at the next stoppage. It was no big deal. It was a false positive where we want to be wrong by being overly cautious.
The same ball to the face of a male player would not have produced a cultural expectation for a stoppage. I officiate an off-season sport where the expectation is that unless we see a bone sticking out of the skin, we are still playing.
Counting the times a medical provider is beckoned onto the field is an easy metric. It is also an easily confounded metric.
I think a better metric would be injuries that kept a player from completing the game or held out of practice for at least a day. That is a harder data lift but I think far more informative. Maybe the rankings are the same but the data would have more practical meaning.