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Find the Best Sport for You: Aspen Institute Releases 1st Tool to Assess Health Benefits of High School Sports

For the first time, the public can identify in one place the relative benefits and risks of participating in the 10 most popular high school sports for boys and girls. Launched today, the Healthy Sport Index combines the best available data and expert analysis while allowing users to customize sport-by-sport results through their own health priorities for participation.

The Healthy Sport Index can be found at HealthySportIndex.com. The tool is a product of the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative, developed in partnership with Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) and with the guidance of an advisory group of medical doctors, researchers and other specialists related to sports health.

Each evaluated sport includes recommendations for complementary sports to play based on overall health and athletic skill development in a child’s primary sport. The Healthy Sport Index also provides tips and links to best practices in each sport that coaches and programs can use, recognizing that any sport can be delivered in a manner that produces positive health outcomes.

For each sport, the Healthy Sport Index analyzed three areas of health impacts on high school athletes:

  • Physical Activity: How much are athletes moving their bodies at practice?
  • Safety: How prevalent are injuries?
  • Psychosocial: How has playing a sport changed the behavior of its athletes, such as through emotional, social and academic skills?

The evaluated sports for boys are baseball, basketball, cross country, football, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, tennis, track and field, and wrestling. For girls, the selected sports are basketball, cheerleading, cross country, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field, and volleyball.

Results assigned to each sport are based on an equal weighting for each category – one third for physical activity, one-third for safety, and one-third for psychosocial. On the front page of the Healthy Sport Index, users can assign the emphasis they want to place on each of the three categories and watch the list of sports below reorder itself.

Boys cross country and girls swimming had the healthiest sports by gender when applying equal weighting. The Healthy Sport Index is not intended to conclude which sports children should or should not play. Different sports offer different benefits, and different children have different health needs.

Also, how each sport experience is served differs from school to school, and team to team. No single experience is the same and some programs and coaches follow best practices more closely than others. A finding of lower emphasis on any of the three defined priorities does not imply that choosing that sport is detrimental, just that other sports may offer greater benefits based on data.

“Playing any sport is better than playing no sport,” said Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program. “Most parents and youth understand this. The Healthy Sport Index is a tool to help them to make the best decisions for them, so youth can get and stay involved in sports – hopefully for life. We owe them this resource, and we hope that schools, sport organizations, health and medical organizations, and other stakeholders use its insights to improve the delivery of sport experiences for youth.”

“The knowledge that has propelled HSS to world leadership in musculoskeletal health gives us the opportunity and responsibility to lead also in supporting personal fulfillment and injury prevention,” said Louis A. Shapiro, president and chief executive at HSS.  “The Healthy Sport Index is an example of how we are harnessing that knowledge to enable families everywhere to make the best-informed decisions based on their personal goals.”

Original and existing research analyzed also produced key findings from the data. Among the trends: boys generated more physical activity at practices than girls; boys started specializing in sports before girls; and youth in contact sports showed the riskiest off-field behavior.

About The Aspen Institute

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. For more on Aspen, watch this video or visit our website: www.aspeninstitute.org.

One of the policy programs of the Aspen Institute, the Education & Society Programimproves public education by inspiring, informing, and influencing education leaders across policy and practices, with an emphasis on achieving equity for students of color and students from low-income families. For more, visit www.aspeninstitute.org/education.