Youth sport injury research: a narrative review and the potential of interdisciplinary research |
A summary

Solveig Elisabeth Hausken-Sutter1, Richard Pringle2, Astrid Schubring1,
Stefan Grau1, Natalie Barker-Ruchti1,3
1 Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden;
2 Faculty of Education, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia;
3 School of Health Sciences, Örebro University, Sweden

Mary loves playing football. She plays for two different teams and goes to a school that specializes in football. Mary is fifteen years old and in the middle of a growth spurt. At the same time as her body is changing, she is training hard for an important upcoming tournament. She is also preparing for a difficult exam at school. Her relationship with her coaches is poor. They rarely talk about her progress, aims or goals in life or in football, nor do they have track of her training amount, and, since Mary loves football, she trains as much as she can. Right after the important tournament and right before her exam, Mary twists her knee during training. Thinking back, she recognizes that her knee has been feeling strange for a long time, but she has not given it much attention. Mary suffers from a knee injury, or an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, common for girls who play football. After surgery and seven months of rehabilitation she can begin to train normally, however, she is careful because she is afraid of getting injured again.

Mary’s story is not unusual. Research has shown a high injury rate among youth football players, even higher than in other contact/collision sports such as field hockey or basketball. What Mary’s experience demonstrates is how complex injury development can be. Researchers may argue that Mary was overtraining; others have shown that stress affects injury development. Yet others would study Mary’s physical dispositions or research clinical parameters, such as strength and flexibility. Indeed, many factors affect injury development and they are all valid and relevant when addressing Mary’s or anybody else’s sport injury. The above-mentioned factors have been studied by researchers mainly from scientific disciplines such as biomechanics, sport medicine, exercise physiology, sport sociology and sport psychology. Although research results from the various disciplines have contributed with important knowledge of injury development and prevention, injury rates continue to be high, particularly in youth football.

A key reason for the continued high injury rate is that injury prevention programs are based on knowledge from single disciplines. Instead of working together, researchers within each discipline focus on what they believe is important, which results in prevention programs that only focus on parts of the problem. For example, some warm-up programs such as the FIFA 11+ exercise program, address the physical body through exercises related to running, strength and jumping. Other programs focus on the players’ mind, where the aim is to help them cope with stress. However, in Mary’s case, a lot more was going on in her life than what these prevention programs are designed to address. Although they may be helpful for some parts of Mary’s life, a prevention program should also include other factors such as her relationship with her coaches, her training volume, and her rapid growth.

Some researchers have over the years argued that to understand the complex nature of injury development, a more integrated approach, where multiple disciplines work together and integrate knowledge and research methods throughout the research process, is necessary. Such an integrated approach is referred to as interdisciplinary research. In reality, however, few injury research projects have been conducted in this way. Therefore, our paper aims to address this gap in interdisciplinary sport injury research through adopting an interdisciplinary approach. To achieve this, a group of researchers at the University of Gothenburg have developed and are conducting the research project ‘Injury free children and adolescents: Towards best practice in Swedish football’ (FIT project). A first step in this project was to review existing youth football/sport injury research and to develop an interdisciplinary research process that would allow researching the complex nature of sport injury development. In our article, we present the results from this review as well as the five-phase interdisciplinary research process.

The results show that most research on youth football injuries is conducted in the biomedical and psychological disciplines, whereas much less research is available in sociology. Furthermore, the review demonstrates how the disciplines approach research differently; for example, researchers in sociology interact with the athletes they study, whereas biomedical researchers do not. Most importantly, the mono-disciplinary nature of sport injury research that we have identified in our review demonstrates that integrated research across disciplines is lacking.

The results from our review demonstrate that the five-phase interdisciplinary research process we have developed for the FIT project has the potential to address the complexity of sport injuries through including multiple disciplines and qualitative and quantitative research methods. If we can learn more about the complexity of sport injuries, maybe Mary and the people around her will be better equipped to prevent injuries. The five-phase process is unique in sport injury research and a novel practical example of how such research can be conducted. It demonstrates how researchers can work interdisciplinarily regardless of topic, and it can thus be a guide for researchers who aim to work across any disciplines with the interest of addressing a common complex issue.

Copyright © Solveig Elisabeth Hausken-Sutter, Richard Pringle,
Astrid Schubring, Stefan Grau & Natalie Barker-Ruchti 2021

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