The majority of sudden deaths in youth sports from 2007 to 2015 were cardiac-related while playing basketball, a study found.
The National Athletic Trainers’ Association found that sudden cardiac deaths was the most common condition to kill a youth athlete in middle school or a youth or recreation league. The vast majority were boys at an average age of 13 and two-thirds took place at practice, not in a game.
There were 45 deaths over the nine-year period NATA studied. Sixteen of them were on the basketball court (35.6%), seven apiece while playing baseball or football (15.6%) and six occurred while playing soccer (13.4%).
NATA’s study focused on youth athletes in middle school, youth and recreation leagues. In the study, the organization noted that comprehensive reports have been made at the high school and collegiate level, but this is the first of its kind around the middle school age group.
One of the findings that stood out, beyond the most deaths happening to boys on a basketball court, was the rate at which it increased over the years.
While there was an average of five deaths a year, there were 11 such occurrences in 2015 alone.
Some of that has to do with an increase in sports participation, but the study notes the rate of deaths also increases. NATA uses a stat it calls “athlete-years,” which is simply one athlete participating in one sport in a calendar year.
Over the course of the study, there were 1.83 deaths per 10 million athlete-years, but in 2015, it increased to 3.84 deaths per 10 million.
That cause was unclear. The study did not take into account specific incidents and analyze why the deaths were caused; it focused on compiling and analyzing the numbers. Additionally, as the “athlete-year” stat shows, the study didn’t note if athletes played multiple sports. It only denoted which they were playing when the death occurred.
The study acknowledged it was “unable to obtain yearly practice and competition exposure data for youth athletes” and that further study was necessary.
Less than four deaths per 10 million athletes is a minuscule amount (about .000038%) and should not detract athletes from playing basketball, or any of the other sports.
However, it may be worth another study at what is causing the increase in rate of deaths, whether it’s the type of training, amount of practice hours or some other reason.