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Bad Breaks for Young Goalies

Adult-size soccer balls can mean broken bones for kids

FRIDAY, Nov. 30, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Young goalies who fend off adult-size soccer balls are three times more likely to break their wrists than those playing with smaller balls, says an English orthopedic surgeon.

In a study of sports injuries among youngsters who came for treatment to his clinic, Dr. James Hunter found that almost three-quarters of the 28 children who had wrist fractures from tending soccer goals had been playing with an adult-size soccer ball. The rest had been using a smaller ball designed for younger players.

"There's a fair amount of ignorance in our country of the importance of ball size. A little education is in order," says Hunter, author of the study, which appears in this month's British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The English Football Association recommends that children under 11 years old use smaller balls, Hunter says, but from the evidence of his own patients, he finds that these recommendations are often ignored.

Regulation No. 5 adult-size soccer balls, which weigh almost a pound and are between 26 and 28 inches in circumference, are too big and heavy for small children, particularly when they are kicked hard at a goalie who must use his hands to fend off a goal, Hunter says.

The result can be a wrist fracture, which causes swelling and tenderness and requires a cast for several weeks while the bone repairs itself.

In the United States, according to the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), the rules require that children 11 years old and under use a No. 4-size soccer ball, which weighs between 12 and 14 ounces and has a circumference of between 25 and 26.5 inches. Children 8 and under must use an even smaller ball that weighs between 10 and 12 ounces.

"Safety is a primary concern with children's soccer," says AYSO communications chief Lolly Keys, who adds that ball size is only one of many regulations mandated for the approximately 55,000 youth teams across the country that are sponsored by AYSO.

Shinguards must be worn by children, and younger children should play with smaller teams so they can learn skills more quickly and reduce their chances of injuries. The playing fields for younger children are also smaller so they won't tire too easily, which is another way injuries happen, Keys says.

Hunter initiated his study because he noticed a fair number of younger players coming into his Nottingham clinic with wrist injuries.

"I asked if they had fallen over, and they said, 'No, I didn't fall over, I just saved the ball,'" he says.

For the study, Hunter monitored all the kids and young adults who had fractures at his clinic for 17 months. Among the 1,920 new patients, 28 were young goalies between the ages of 8 and 13 who had wrist fractures from trying to make a save in a soccer game. The average age of the boys was 11.

Two-thirds of the injuries happened during informal play, and almost three-quarters of the fractures happened when using an adult-size ball. Twenty-six of the patients had to wear a cast for three weeks to repair the fracture, and two needed further care.

Hunter says the number of fractures incurred this way is small compared to other in injuries he treats, but "the fact that it does occur is interesting."

What To Do

If you have Adobe Acrobat, you can access the regulations for children's soccer mandated by the American Youth Soccer Organization. Also on the site is other information about making the sport better for young children, including shorter games and good sportsmanship.

SOURCES: Interviews with James Hunter, M.D., Department of Trauma and Orthopaedics, Queens Medical Center, Nottingham, U.K.; Lolly Keys, chief communications officer, American Youth Soccer Organization, Hawthorne, Calif.; November 2001 British Journal of Sports Medicine
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