Practice makes perfect, but it also makes for a lot of pain.
More than half of the injuries that high school athletes suffer take place during practice instead of games, according to a recent study by the National Athletic Trainers' Association.
An average of 55.5 percent of reported injuries in NATA's study of high school sports over three years occurred during practices, and only two of the 10 sports studied had more injuries occur during games than in practice sessions (boys and girls soccer).
NATA studied high school varsity athletes during the academic years of 1995-97, using data from 246 certified athletic trainers from different regions of the country.
Not surprisingly, football topped the list when it came to percentage of players injured (34.6). The baseball and softball diamonds were the safest fields to play on (softball 14.4; baseball 11.8).
The study reinforced basic themes in high school athletics: since there is an inherent risk of injury associated with each sport, injuries will occur. NATA maintained that schools have injury prevention programs in place for both practices and games.
From head (aches) to (turf) toe, here's a look at bumps, breaks and bruises that athletes take from the playing field, sport-by-sport (the numbers after the sport represent the percentage of players that suffer an injury):
Football (34.9): They wear the most pads and protection for a reason: most injuries, most injured players, most exposures to injury, highest case rate during games, highest case rate during practice and most surgeries.
Wrestling (26.7): There seem to be as many ways to get hurt on the mat as there are wrestling moves. Wrestling had the widest distribution among the sports studied -- literally from head to toe.
A wrestler's two main tools, the arms, were the most frequently injured area. The shoulder/arm region had the highest percentage (18.4) among eight body part categories. But each of the remaining seven categories -- head, neck or spine; face or scalp; forearm, wrist or hand; trunk; hip, thigh or leg; knee; ankle or foot -- registered at least a 5 percent injury rate. Even the "other" category (which included systemic sport-related illnesses such as heat illness and skin conditions) earned an 11.7 percent. By comparison, no other sport had more than 3.3 percent of its injuries in the "other" category, and every other sport had at least two categories registering under 5 percent. And when wrestlers get hurt, they're least likely to bounce back to action right away: wrestlers had the highest proportion of injuries for which a player missed more than seven days of participation (32.6).
Girls soccer (25.6): The highest frequency of knee injuries came in this sport (19.4 percent), as did the highest number of knee surgeries (58). As expected in a sport that focuses on the feet, the lower half of the body took the brunt of injures (33.5 percent were to the ankle or foot; 25.8 to the hip, thigh or leg).
Girls basketball (23.0): Four percent of injuries for girls on the hardwood led to surgeries, which was the largest proportion among the 10 sports. The top injury was to the ankle or foot (36.4), and the most common type was a sprain (45.2). Girls basketball players suffered a slightly higher percentage of knee injuries than boys do: 15.7 to 11.1.
Boys basketball (22.5): Most numbers mirrored their female counterparts, but the boys seem to get their elbows up a little more. Ten percent of boys basketball players' injuries were to the face; the girls figure for the same part was 6.7.
Boys soccer (20.2): Boys soccer players saved it for the game, as 59.3 percent of injuries in the sport came in game competition rather than practice (the girls' figure was 57.0). Like their female counterparts, most of their injuries were sprains (32.4) and most were to the ankle or foot (33.5) and the hip, thigh or leg (28.0).
Field hockey (15.8): Wooden sticks and a hard ball lead to a lot of cuts and bruises, which composed the "general trauma" category. More than 37 percent of field hockey injuries were of that type. Nearly half of the injuries were to the area most likely to come in contact with the ball or stick: the ankle or foot (23.3) and the hip, thigh or leg (21.8). Field hockey was also the only sport where sprains and strains accounted for less than 50 percent of its total injuries.
Volleyball (14.9): Bump, set, spike . . . sprained ankle. Volleyball had the most acute results when it came to body part or type of injury. The foot or ankle accounted for 41.8 percent of injuries, and 51.5 percent of those injuries were sprains (injuries to ligaments). No other sport had figures so high in either category.
Softball (14.4): In no other sport is a player as likely to suffer a strain (injury to the muscle), as the 32.2 percent was highest. The body part injured most often was the forearm, wrist or hand.
Baseball (11.8): Although it is at the bottom of the list for frequency of injuries, it had the highest percentage of fractures (8.8). than any other sport. Its most common injuries were also to the forearm, wrist and hand, recording the highest percentage in that area (24.6) of any of the sports.
THE INJURY LIST
Body partInjury most
Sportmost often injuredoften suffered
Basketball (B&G) Ankle/foot Sprains
Field Hockey (G) Ankle/foot General trauma
(contusions, wounds, etc.)
Football (B) Hip/thigh/leg Sprains
Soccer (B&G) Ankle/foot Sprains
Volleyball (G) Ankle/foot Sprains
Wrestling (B) Shoulder/arm Sprains
Study by the National Athletic Trainers Association,
three-year review of 1995-97 seasons.