This time of year, it seems every park, field, or court is full of children playing practicing or playing a variety of organized sports, from baseball and soccer to volleyball and tennis. Organized sports yield so many benefits such as increasing physical activity, building leadership, teamwork, and honing both social and developmental skills.
According to Johns Hopkins University, about 30 million children and adolescents participate in some form of organized sports and more than 3.5 million injuries occur each year from these activities. Furthermore, nearly one-third of childhood injuries are sports related. Parents, coaches, and players should not only be mindful of this, but proactive in mitigating these risks. Preventing injury is the most important item we all should stay on top of. The following interventions can help lessen potential risks and avoid many injuries, insuring your child stays in, rather than out of the game:
Get a Sports Physical
Sports physicals are inexpensive, can be easily obtained, and help identify any underlying health conditions you may not have previously been aware of. A thorough assessment, by your pediatrician, family physician, or nurse practitioner will insure your child is cleared to play sports and peace of mind as a parent. Many clinics in the area provide these services for as little as around $20, of which can be scheduled and done at your convenience.
CPR and First Aid
Coaches, at any level, should have an understanding on when and how to respond to emergencies. CPR and First Aid training can provide a solid level of guidance so they can react quickly and appropriately. Coaches have an obligation to protect their players and are entrusted by parents to follow through in safeguarding their children during practice and games. Engage your child’s coach by asking them questions about safety and what measures are in place…both in games and during practices. Parents and coaches may not be familiar in recognizing signs of a concussion and when to keep young athletes from returning to play. To improve care for young athletes, the CDC has published educational “Heads Up” toolkits for parents, coaches and teachers which can be a good conversation to have with those running organized sports leagues your child participates in.
Children are more prone to heat related illness than most adults. Make sure your child drinks plenty of water before, during, and after physical activities. Signs such as nausea, dizziness, or elevated temperature are obvious signs of dehydration. Don’t wait for your child to state they are thirsty, continual fluids are key to remain hydrated. Sugary-based drinks, particularly carbonated sodas, are not preferred or effective to maintain adequate hydration so use them sparingly. Stick with mostly water and only the occasional sports drink when necessary (such as intensive activity lasting more than an hour or playing in warm/hot temperatures).
Most sports related injuries occur during practices, rather than games. Wearing the appropriate gear for the respective sport is crucial. Protective gear is more than pads and helmets and begins with the basics, such as proper clothing and uniform attire. Most leagues, regardless of sport, will have mandatory guidelines for adhering to equipment standards aimed at protecting players. This is another opportunity to discuss what equipment is necessary with your child’s coach. Children should have access to and consistently use the appropriate gear necessary for each respective sport. One basic item, often overlooked is sunscreen. Lather your kids up heavily in sunscreen and re-apply often!
Take a Break
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children take at least one day off from organized sports activities each week and at least two months off from a particular sport, per year, to avoid burnout and injuries sustained from repetitive, over-training. With the emergence of year-round “select” or “travel” teams, more and more kids play one sport exclusively which greatly increases the prevalence of sports-related injuries. Parents should understand the risk this potentially permanent damage, engaging in such practices, can cause and weigh the risks versus the rewards. The question a few coaches and parents should really be evaluating is…what’s the motive for pushing young kids so hard, so fast? Is a $5 championship ring really worth the risk of a life altering surgery down the road? One sobering fact to ponder on is the odds of a child becoming a professional athlete are 1 in about 17,000. Let that sink in and if your child is truly the next Hall of Famer, why are you wearing him out at 12 years old?
Enjoy this time with your kids because it only lasts so long. Make their long term development and safety THE primary goal. Making their well-being priority, through preventive medical screening and age-based training, will protect them during these impressionable years to enjoy a lifetime of sports to come.