Spring is just around the corner and that means spring sports season.
In the United States, there are an estimated 30 million children and teens that participate in some type of sport and for good reason. There are numerous benefits including physical fitness, developing lifelong healthy habits, improved school performance and reduced risk of drug and alcohol abuse. Playing sports can also help boost self-esteem, teach discipline, build character and help develop social skills. However, as participation levels increase, so does the risk for injury.
Injuries from organized and unorganized sports account for 775,000 emergency room visits annually for children ages 5-14 and sports-related injuries are the leading cause of emergency room visits in 12-17-year-olds. Perhaps the more important figure to note is that an estimated half of all childhood sports-related injuries can be prevented.
So how can parents help maximize the potential benefits while reducing the risk of injury? Here are some tips for creating a safe youth sports experience:
1. Choose the Right Sport
It’s important to choose the right sport for your child’s age, physical traits and maturity, and personal interest. Different sports vary in their demand for certain kinds of physical traits. Does your child have the strength, height, flexibility, endurance, or other traits needed to start a particular sport? Is their body mature enough to handle the stressors associated with that sport? Of course, certain traits can be developed through strengthening and conditioning, but there will be some level of predisposition to a particular sport or type of sports. For team sports, make sure children are grouped and matched up based on skill level, weight and physical maturity–especially for contact sports.
2. Get a Preseason Physical
Generally, a sports physical is a requirement for participation in youth sports through schools, recreational leagues, and other organizations. If for some reason it is not required, it is important to get one anyway. Preseason psychical exams are the best way to get an overall picture of your youth athlete’s health. It can help identify any issues that could hinder your child’s athletic performance or that could be detrimental to your child’s safety. In some cases, a sports physical can be completed by your child’s pediatrician in conjunction with his or her annual well-child visit. This health assessment can help prevent serious injuries resulting from a health issue that otherwise may have gone undiagnosed. This is also an opportune time to make sure your child is current on all immunizations.
3. Get to Know the Coaches
Just as you should build a relationship with your child’s teachers, you should also get to know his or her coaches. How long have they been working with children? What is their experience with the sport? Are they qualified to administer first-aid? Is their CPR-certification up to date? Will there be athletic trainers on hand during practices and games or competition? In order to have a safe youth sports experience, you and your child should both feel comfortable with the coach and any support staff.
4. Inspect the Environment
Ensure that playing fields and environments are safe, clean and well-maintained. Areas should be well-lit and free of tripping hazards, holes, exposed sprinklers and broken glass. Are there nearby restrooms and adequate access to first aid? Is equipment in good, working order? Do heating and cooling systems function properly? For other areas to consider, check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s guide for creating healthy environments for youth athletes.
5. Invest in Proper Equipment
One of the contributors to youth sports injuries is incorrect or ill-fitting gear and equipment. This includes protective equipment such as pads and helmets, but also apparel and footwear. Replace these items in a timely manner if they become damaged, show signs of excessive wear or your child outgrows them. Additionally, for most sports jewelry can be a safety hazard. Teach your child to leave these items at home, in their bag or in their locker.
6. Stress the Importance of Hydration
Hydration is one of the most important things you can do to promote a safe youth sports experience. As a child exercises, his muscles generate heat, raising his body temperature. When the body gets hot, it sweats. The evaporating sweat cools the body. If the child does not replace the water lost through sweating by drinking more fluids, the body’s water balance will be upset and the body may overheat. To prevent dehydration, your child should drink fluids before, during and after exercise. Though water is ideal, fluids containing salt such as sports drinks have been shown to significantly increase voluntary drinking. Don’t be afraid to speak to your child’s coach about what protocols they have in place to prevent dehydration and heat-related illnesses.
7. Use Food as Fuel
Teaching children that the body is fueled through proper nutrition helps set them up for lifelong healthy habits. This also helps ensure they’ll receive the adequate calories, vitamins and minerals in order to exert the amount of energy required by youth sports. It’s equally important to fuel the recovery phase after intensive or extended physical activity. A mixture of carbohydrates and protein can help repair and restore tired muscles.
8. Promote that Winning Isn’t Everything
More than 54% of athletes have reported playing even though they were injured. In many cases, not speaking up about pain or a seemingly minor injury is due to fear of failure or disappointment, but left untreated even the most minor aches and pains have the potential to become serious. It’s important for your child to understand that his or her safety is your number one priority–not winning or their potential athletic future.
9. Learn How to Fall
For most sports, part of learning how to prevent common sports injuries includes learning how to safely stop or how to fall. Doing so can help minimize the impact and severity of injury. For a gymnast, this might mean learning how to tuck and roll. For a baseball player, it might include learning how to properly slide to home plate. Each sport is different.
10. Have a Plan
Despite best efforts to prevent them, accidents and injuries do happen. Participating in youth sports or any physical activity increases the risk, so it’s important to know what to do if your child does get injured.
Contact Paris Orthopedics
The team at Paris Orthopedics specializes in providing care and prevention for a variety of sports and activity-related injuries for children, teens, and adults. Our knowledgeable team of providers works together to diagnose and treat sport and activity-related injuries while counseling patients on the correct training and best practices that can significantly reduce their risk of further or recurring injury.
If your child has experienced an injury as a result of an activity or sport, call (903) 737-000 to schedule an appointment right away. Proper diagnosis and timely treatment can make the difference in sitting out for a game versus sitting out for the season.