Axell Hodges (right), a motocross racer and X Games competitor  Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool (motocross); Erik Voake/Getty Images (Axell Hodges)

Should Young People Be Allowed to Do Extreme Sports?

The pandemic seems to have fueled a surge of interest in extreme adventure sports such as mountain biking, rock climbing, and snowboarding. And that includes young people: Youth participation rates in sports like bike motocross, skateboarding, and mountain biking are at all-time highs, according to the Outdoor Foundation, a trade organization for the outdoor recreation industry. And this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing featured two new extreme aerial ski events: freeski big air and mixed team aerials—contests in which skiers launch themselves into the air off a ski jump and do all kinds of acrobatic tricks before landing. But some people aren’t so sure these kinds of sports are good for everyone. Two experts— a physical education professor and a doctor—face off on whether young people should be allowed to engage in extreme sports.

It’s well-known that physical activity has many health benefits. Unfortunately, many young people have lost interest

in traditional sports. But adventure sports—such as mountain biking, snowboarding, and motocross—are steadily becoming more popular. We should encourage this.

Although some adventure sports are associated with a higher potential for injury, it may be this very risk that helps get—and keep—people involved. If young people believe they’re inadequately challenged by an activity, they often lose interest. Risk-free activities deprive young people of the opportunity to test themselves while engaging in age-appropriate physical challenges that are motivating and stimulating.

Risk taking is crucial to the development of risk-management skills and to the mental health of adolescents. It’s the opportunity to escape boredom, test abilities, overcome fears, and achieve goals that motivates most adventure sport athletes, and teens are no different.

Risk-free activities deprive young people of the chance to test themselves.

Risk is a fact of life. Consider something as simple as driving to work. Daily commuting is associated with a large number of car accidents. We accept that the risk of traffic can be reduced by learning and practicing good driving skills. A doctor wouldn’t suggest that a person injured or killed in a car crash should have anticipated the accident because he or she was engaged in an inherently dangerous activity.

We regularly control our exposure to risk by taking preventive measures and gradually working toward our goals. Driving lessons start on empty roads, not on freeways. It’s that slow progression that allows us to safely get better, and adventure sports are the same. More-dangerous activities should be avoided until skills are sufficiently mastered and the chance of success is high.

Children may lack the maturity or ability to judge risk and the consequences of failure. That’s why they need guidance from a coach or parent. Nevertheless, adventure sports can still be part of a healthy, balanced life.



Professor of Human Health and Nutritional Science, University of Guelph, Canada

There’s no doubt that extreme sports like snowboarding, motocross, and rock climbing have soared in popularity. But sports that involve flying through the air on a motorcycle or doing multiple flips before landing on an icy mountainside involve a level of risk that is far beyond soccer, basketball, or even football.

With extreme sports, we’re not just talking about the possibility of a broken leg or a torn ligament. I have treated several motocross riders who suffered broken necks that left them paralyzed. One of my patients lost his leg in an A.T.V. accident. Massive head trauma that can cause permanent brain damage and even death is a very real possibility.

The most advanced protective equipment can’t prevent injuries. Helmets are just not made to withstand the high-level impact of these extreme sports. And because kids grow so fast, it’s hard to fit protective gear correctly.

Young people aren’t able to assess whether these sports are worth the risks.

That’s why extreme sports may be too risky for children and teens.

The statistics are sobering. In 2014, I was part of a team that studied injuries related to extreme sports. We found that more than 4 million such injuries occurred between 2000 and 2011; 40,000 of those were head and neck injuries, which can be very serious and lead to lifelong disabilities.

And studies show that a child’s brain is more vulnerable to the effects of a brain injury and takes longer to recover.

Kids don’t have the tools they need to make good choices about whether participating in these kinds of sports is worth the risk. It’s not just a matter of maturity; it’s a matter of brain development. Scientists have found that the part of the brain that guides impulse control and weighs risks versus rewards is not fully mature in teenagers.

That’s why responsible adults need to step in and tell young people who want to participate in these very dangerous sports that they have to wait—at least until they’re old enough to be responsible for their own decisions. 


Associate Professor Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit

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