The What and Why of Safety in Sports

Sporting events are a huge American pastime. Even if you don’t play or participate in a sport, the odds are you’re a spectator. Some of us are diehard fans!

While most of us don’t mind watching a couple of professional athletes go at it every now and then (especially in hockey), nobody likes to see someone get hurt, especially if the injury turns out to be serious. It’s so much worse when a sporting injury happens to a friend, family member, or your own child.

That’s why it’s vital to take safety seriously in athletic activities, and that can involve a variety of considerations, from equipment to general knowledge about the game. Here are four areas you should fully grasp before you play even the most casual sports.

1. Use the Proper Equipment

Safety equipment is the fundamental first step. One of the most common, and most essential, is a helmet, which must be employed in sports as varied as football, biking, climbing, skateboarding, car racing, and motorcycling.

A helmet might seem like a simple, and possibly annoying, piece of equipment, but a head injury is one of the most serious traumas a person can suffer. Such an injury can affect you for the rest of your life.

Most sports call for specific pieces of protective equipment; for example, shin guards and knee pads for sports like soccer and volleyball, or mouth guards for football players and boxers. A climber will need tools like ropes, carabiners, specialty gripping shoes, and gloves. These pieces of equipment would be useless in a sport like basketball, but they’re vital for the safety of serious climbers.

It might seem uncool or uncomfortable to have to use all the recommended safety equipment for your sport, but it’s crucial that you do. Recommendations for tools and clothing are made with your safety and health in mind, and using the right equipment in the correct way could mean the difference between living a normal, healthy lifestyle the rest of your days, or having to live with a long-term disability.

2. Follow the Rules

Every sport has a set of rules designed to keep the game fair for the participants. Often, these rules are specifically geared for safety, and therefore should be followed at all costs.

For instance, NFL football players are required to wear helmets and pads, and there are very strict penalties applied to those who don’t. Recently, the NFL has cracked down on following safety rules and using the proper equipment because of new evidence that has linked football playing to concussions and brain damage.

Fouls are called for helmet-to-helmet collisions, grabbing the face mask, and committing other dangerous personal fouls. These protections are in place specifically to help prevent unnecessary injuries to the players.

Although the NFL has recently gained the most publicity for enforcing the new safety rules, other sports organizations are aware of the potential long-lasting damage that can happen when they aren’t followed in their respective arenas. Referees in soccer don’t allow kicks near an opponent’s head, a penalty will be called if the pitcher hits the batter with the ball, a boxer isn’t allowed to hit below the belt, and so on.

3. Knowledge of Sport

Knowledge can be the most powerful safety tool. The better a person knows his or her sport, the safer the athlete is apt to be. A parachutist, for instance, would never leap out of an airplane or off a cliff without carefully studying how wind direction affects his or her fall, the safest distance to pull the chute, appropriate weather for the jump, and safe landing technique.

Beginners often race into a sport, assuming they can succeed without much study or planning. But this is the kind of bullish confidence that results in sprained ankles, blisters, concussions, gashes, and more serious mishaps that can leave you regretting you chose to play the game at all!

4. Spectator Safety

Last, but definitely not least, is spectator safety. In the professional arena, a car racing track has high walls and a fence between the stands and the road, football fields place bleachers well away from the turf, baseball fields erect backstops to stop foul balls, and so on.

Amateur sporting events often don’t include these precautions, though. If you’re engaged in any kind of unsanctioned event, or you’re concerned about safety or the spectators, don’t hesitate to back out of participating. It’s not worth taking safety risks on your part or for your family.

Safety measures can feel like a burden when you’re trying to have a good time, but think about this: Would pro athletes be able to excel in their sports year after year without their safety mechanisms?

Such measures don’t eliminate injuries, but they significantly reduce them. Implementing your own safety measures, even in casual sporting activities, is central to protecting your long-term health and safety.