It happens every weekend. Parents and children make their way to sporting clubs across the country – packing up their gear, kicking goals and keeping score.
And while earning a scar or two may not be a big deal to some, more serious injuries can have medical consequences that last for years.
According to a 2013 report from the Victorian Sports Injury Prevention Taskforce, sports-related injuries in children under 15 make up four times the burden on the state's public health system than road trauma injuries. And research by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that during 2011-12 an estimated 36,000 people aged 15 and over suffered sporting-related injuries.
Getting involved in a local sporting club is part of Australian culture, especially for children, who can gain massive social benefits. But injuries are common, and parents need to know what they can do to make sure their children are as safe as possible.
Safety starts from the ground up
Sporting clubs have a duty of care to ensure both the playing area and spectator area are safe.
This applies to any sport, from gymnastics to hockey. You could send your child off to play soccer wearing a mouthguard and all the right equipment, but she/he could still trip over a pothole on the field. If the club had failed to adequately prepare the playing area, any injury could open the club up to legal action.
In 2004, a 12-year-old boy fell from his bike while racing across a dirt track. Before he could move out of the way, he was struck by another rider. The boy sustained a leg injury that worsened over time. In this instance, the boy’s family was able to successfully make a claim against the club, due to the club’s failure to provide enough staff to supervise the race properly.
What are sporting clubs responsible for?
- Safety equipment.Clubs have a duty of care to make sure proper safety equipment is worn at all times. Equipment should be suitable for the size and ability of the individual child.
- Serious injuries plan.While clubs can’t prevent every injury, they can control their response. Each club should have a comprehensive plan in place to deal with serious injuries. A child should never be sent back onto the field after suffering a head injury and first aid should always be administered.
- It’s important to remember not all schools or sporting organisations have public liability insurance. This means if your child is injured playing sport, you might have to pay out-of-pocket expenses for medical treatment. Check with your school or sports organisation as to the level, if any, of insurance they provide.
- Children are entitled not just to physical safety, but emotional safety. If you see inappropriate behaviour, you have a responsibility to report it. It's the responsibility of the club, its marshals and referees to take action once that report is made.
Governing bodies for national and state sporting associations will also have their own guidelines relevant to their particular sports.
What happens when kids get really serious about sport?
Children who are at an elite level or training hard in the hopes of becoming professional athletes may have a higher risk of becoming injured. Overuse injuries such as tendonitis and muscle soreness are particularly common in athletic children.
Sports Medicine Australia suggests 50% of sporting injuries are preventable. In order to avoid overuse injuries, parents should ensure coaches and trainers are aware of all the demands on children's schedules, such as other sports and school commitments.
Many of the same laws and liabilities that apply to local sporting clubs also apply to professional sports clubs – they still carry a duty of care. However, the degree of the duty of care will be influenced by the nature of the sport and the risk involved.
It’s important for children to socialise and participate in local sporting clubs, but your kids should be able to have fun and be active in a safe, supervised environment.