The start of the school year brings with it the start of youth sports programs. Too often, that means an increase in sports-related injuries. While organized sports provide a great way to keep kids healthy, as well as help them develop important life skills, it’s also vital that kids learn safety precautions to use on and off the field. So if your son or daughter is one of the more than 38 million U.S. children involved in organized sports each year, how can you help to minimize the possibility of injuries?
Truth is, all sports carry with them the risk of injury. Obviously, however, the more contact involved in sports such as football and hockey, the greater the likelihood of injuries. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers these tips for parents of kids involved in sports:
HAVE A PRE-PARTICIPATION SPORTS PHYSICAL PERFORMED BY YOUR CHILD’S PERSONAL PHYSICIAN. For many adolescents, the sports physical may be the only time they see their physician for the year. In addition to ensuring that your child is physically ready for sports, your physician can offer tips for fitness, appropriate exercise, and strengthening and weight control guidelines. A visit to the doctor also offers your child the opportunity to ask questions and gives physicians a chance to ensure that all immunizations and preventive health measures are up to date.
WEAR THE CORRECT GEAR. To protect your child, regardless of the sport he or she plays, make sure the appropriate safety gear, i.e. pads, mouth guards, helmets, etc., is worn at all times.
STRENGTHEN MUSCLES. Performing conditioning exercises before games and during practice can strengthen muscles used in play. Many high schools offer strength and conditioning programs during the summer break. Take advantage of these excellent opportunities to work with the coaching staff.
INCREASE FLEXIBILITY. It is important that your child stretches before and after games or practice to increase flexibility.
USE THE PROPER TECHNIQUE. Any time a sport is practiced or a game is played, proper technique must be used to help minimize injury. This applies especially to contact sports. Make sure your athlete has been trained to use proper techniques for his or her sport, and emphasize the importance of this for their safety and the safety of others.
TAKE BREAKS. Rest periods during practices and games can reduce injuries. When the weather is hot, they can prevent heat-related illness.
PLAY SAFE. Strict rules against headfirst sliding (baseball and softball), spearing (football) and body checking (ice hockey) should be enforced.
AVOID HEAT INJURY. Have your child drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise or play. Shorten or cancel practices or competitions during high heat/humidity periods. And in hot weather, always make sure your child wears light clothing.
Because kids are starting to participate in sports earlier and earlier, parents should also keep in mind emotional readiness. Pressure to win can cause stress on a child, especially younger children. The pressure can come from many sources, including parents. So take a step back and make sure you are not putting too much stress or pressure on your child.
Dr. Joseph Kahn is Department of Pediatrics Chair at Mercy Children’s Hospital, stjohnsmercy.org.