The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that kids should get at least an hour of physical exercise every day. While this doesn’t necessarily mean playing sports, joining a team offers a host of benefits. In addition to meeting the exercise recommendation, sports offer kids the opportunity to learn self-discipline, teamwork, healthy competition, leadership and time management. Sports can also improve cognitive abilities and even mental health. But sports also bring a risk of injuries. And the higher kids rise in their chosen sport, the greater the risks become. From an EHE Health doctor, here are some ways to implement youth sports safety into your kids’ routines.
Youth sports safety checklist:
1. Sports physicals
Every child should get a full sports physical before each season begins. Underlying conditions can make sports participation more dangerous, and treating emerging issues early leads to the best outcomes. A regular back-to-school physical may not be enough, so be sure to tell your child’s doctor if they plan to play a sport.
2. Cross training
Different sports work the body in different ways. Those who specialize in a single sport, especially when they are very young, may be at higher risk for overuse injuries. Encourage your kids to play more than one sport at younger ages. Later, if they want to specialize, make sure they’re getting complete cross-training workouts that develop all the muscles and joints at an equal rate.
3. Rest and warmups
Many injuries are caused by one of two factors: Lack of proper rest or skimping on warmups. Rest allows the muscles, bones, and joints to fully relax and heal any minor damage. Before the athlete gets going again, those same muscles, bones, and joints need the opportunity to stretch and prepare for intense activity. If your child’s sport has an offseason, it’s especially important to start conditioning again well before the next season starts.
4. Diet and hydration
Athletes work hard and their bodies need plenty of nutrition to compensate. Make sure your child eats a well-rounded diet that includes protein, fruits and vegetables, grains, and healthy fats. They should also maintain a regular eating schedule with three meals a day and perhaps a snack or two. In sports that emphasize weight or body shape, such as wrestling or gymnastics, make sure your child is eating safely and not attempting to drastically add or lose weight.
Also, stress how important it is to drink enough water. Dehydration can easily creep up on an athlete who is working hard. Heat-related illness is also a possibility, as body temperature rises with activity. Your child should always be alert to possible danger signs such as confusion, feeling faint, or nausea.
5. Proper equipment and procedures
There is an element of risk in any sport, but the right gear and proper training can help mitigate it. Make sure your child has and is correctly using, all of the safety gear that their sport requires. From helmets to shoes, all of their gear should be top quality and properly fitted.
A big part of youth sports safety is about intuition and knowing your body. Make sure that kids are being coached on what to do if things go wrong. For example, gymnasts should know how to take a fall, while football players should understand the risks of concussions after tackles.
6. Early assessment and treatment
Athletes are often sore, and many have a higher-than-average pain tolerance. This can make it tough for them to know whether an actual injury exists. But the best outcomes happen when injuries are caught and treated early. Explain the importance of letting you and the coach know about any pain that doesn’t ease with rest or minor treatments. Consult your child’s doctor for any swelling, joint instability, or pain that lasts more than a couple of days.
Childhood sports can be one of the most rewarding ways to develop friendships and stay active. Be sure to remind them that having fun—and their safety—is what’s most important.