To preface, I am a total believer in the necessity to start and maintain a planned physical activity in children because they will not self-initiate any planned physical exertion 99% of the time, which means mom and dad have to be the bad guys and "make" the child do something physical -- and the benefits of this physical activity are essential to a healthy, well adjusted adult. That being said, there are some trends in physical activity which I think need to be frankly discussed and analyzed. That is what this post is an attempt to do at least in part.
The fever-pitched, near-euphoric exuberance surrounding the Wold Cup this year managed to entice yours truly to watch a couple of the games out of sheer curiosity. I played soccer for nearly 10 years as a child/adolescent and so it was neat to see this game get some main-stream attention in the public. But then, the philosophical side of my mind started noticing some things about the game that I'm not sure are all that good, and then to be even more dangerous I compared it against studying/learning ballet. Here's what I came up with, this is an attempt to compare similar categories so I am comparing the 2 world cup games against 2 major performances by professional ballet companies since both involve pushing the body to it's limit of agility and endurance:
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Professional Injury Rates
1 world cup game, I forget the two teams playing: 2 ankle injuries, one apparent broken shoulder, 3 twisted to torn knees (ACL possibly?)
1 world cup game, Brazil vs Columbia: several apparent muscle tears but players continued, one catastrophic knee into the spine of a Brazilian player by a Colombian player, Brazilian player looks to have at least a bruised spinal cord if not worse.
Marinsky (Kirov), 1 live telecast of Giselle: ZERO injuries
American Ballet Theater, 1 Le Corsaire performance in Los Angeles: ZERO injuries, looked like one dancer was standing in for another who had been injured previously
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That is a 7 to 1 injury ratio between two directly observed professional soccer games and two directly observed professional ballet performances. And, 2 of the injuries sustained in the soccer games were catastrophic if not life-crippling injuries the like of which simply do not occur anywhere in the ballet I have ever seen or heard of no matter what level of ballet is being attempted. Some may think that this makes soccer a "mans sport" because you have to be tough to do it and sustain those injuries, but that is not the case. What is the case is that you are exceeding the body's limits and you then end up with a broken body. That does not make you man, that makes you a cripple.
I would hypothesize that in the younger levels, elementary into middle school, this ratio of injuries gets even wider because over the last year in our program at Ballet North among all the many dozens of students present (which far outnumber any soccer team), 2 injuries occurred in the space of 12 months and one of those is not clearly defined as a ballet injury since it appeared outside of class or rehearsal in a uncertain type of way (the dancer was not sure how the injury happened, and it was not a crippling injury). In the ballet, whether class or rehearsal or performance, you have set, regular positions and placements being done, sometimes in a very rapid succession but always with the effort to maintain a stability so the body does not "wipe out". On a soccer team, you have the physically immature bodies of children running all out and kicking at a ball which can cause every type of ankle twist, knee torque, and neck strain possible for the body to represent. A child's immature body has even less ability to sustain hi-g force impacts than an adult's, and the neck and head injuries and concussions possible with soccer are also something that just does not occur in ballet because no one is headbanging into anything!
And now a truly risky comparison, ballet vs. gymnastics
I have taught ballet in the past to gymnastics studios that engaged in the competitive meet scene and the injury rates I saw with this activity are truly stunning. Due to these amazing injury rates I no longer work with gymnastics programs. There is no other way to say it. Trying to teach a class where half of the student are wearing a brace or cast and the other half have serious range of motion limitations due to previous injuries is heart breaking. Here is what I saw, and again I will compare this to ballet:
Observed Gymnastics Injuries, 12 month window, years 2000-2001. Each injury is a different person. These gymnasts ranged between 12 and 16 years of age.
Broken collar bone
Spinal arthritis/irritation (wearing of a back brace)
Broken teeth out of mouth with braces through side of mouth (not joking, that is a real injury)
To compare this with ballet, well, just can't be done. These injuries are in a class all by themselves, they each cost hundreds to thousands of dollars to get fixed and then get rehabilitated from, several of them are life-long, life-changing events (arthritis NEVER goes away, for instance...) and I can honestly say the worse year for injuries we've had at the ballet resulted from PE class injuries plus a kicking-of-the-couch-while-running-in-the-house type situation resulting in 3 people having hip and knee problems for a few months and one person having broken toes from the couch.
What I am left with after openly examining these observed situations is that ballet is safer than PE, for sure it is safer than running around in the house, and as compared to soccer or gymnastics, for lack of a better phrase there really is just no comparison. Once you break and cripple the body, staying in shape and remaining physically active is no longer your primary goal.