Kids and Sports: Safety Comes First

kids sports

kids_sports_smallParticipating in sports is great for promoting healthy self-esteem, and bone and muscle development in kids. Keep your young athletes healthy and injury-free with our expert tips.

By Elaine Cudnik, A.P.R.N., Renown Medical Group Pediatrics

Keeping your children active is smart parenting. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exercise supports healthy bone and muscle development, reduces risk of obesity and chronic illnesses, promotes self-esteem and improves academic performance. And if your child is interested in competitive sports, being physically active also helps prevent injury.

We also know going straight from the couch to the field isn’t ideal — the risk of injury during physical activity increases in people who do not exercise regularly regardless of age. So if your child is already active, then you’re ahead of the game in terms of safety and competitive sports. But level of physical activity isn’t the only consideration.

Focus on Fitness and Fun

Learning a new sport is actually a developmental skill too, so you want to instill in your child an understanding that their self-worth is not a measure of the game. The focus should be on physical fitness and fun. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends making sure your child is not just physically ready, but also mentally and socially.

Once you’ve determined your child is ready to play a sport, being prepared is the best way to avoid sports injury. So make sure your child gets a physical exam. It’s also important to meet with your child’s coach before the season starts and establish emergency plans. Get to know the rules of the game and the right safety equipment for the sport. Attend a sports clinic where you can learn about sports safety and have an open discussion with coaches and other parents.

Ensure Safety and Help Prevent Injury

When the season kicks off there’s a lot you can do to ensure safety and help prevent injury. For starters, make sure your child stretches before and after exercise to avoid overuse injury, which occurs when the same set of muscles is used repeatedly.

Don’t forget hydration. Your child should drink at least two glasses of water approximately two hours before vigorous exercise. During exercise, your child should take a break at least every 20 minutes to hydrate. A child should consume around five ounces while older kids and teens need at least nine ounces.

Rest and recovery are important too. Short-term recovery involves a cool-down period after practice or play to give the body time to strengthen and repair itself. If your child is involved in sports year-round, long-term recovery where they take several days or weeks off, allowing them both a mental and physical break from a specific sport, may be needed. Find some alternate physical activity during these periods to keep them moving and active. Sleep is another valuable part of this equation. Athletes who are not getting enough sleep produce more of the stress hormone cortisol, which inhibits the body’s ability to repair and recover after injury.

Your child can sustain a concussion playing just about any type of sport, not just those requiring helmets. So always keep an eye out for signs and symptoms. If your child suffers a head injury, promptly remove them from play and evaluate their readiness to return to the game or practice. Most sanctioned team sports have coaches or trainers educated on the warning signs of concussive injury. Use their expertise to help assess your child’s health.

Work and busy schedules do not allow for all parents to attend every practice or game, but be there when you can. Stay informed and monitor your child’s physical well-being. Keep in mind, however, your child needs to play with minimal distraction or outside influence. In other words, be the parent and let the coach be the coach.

Support your children in their athletic pursuits, expose them to a wide variety of activities and sports, and help them practice safe and sound judgment. And last but definitely not least, encourage the fun

This story was also published in the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Health Source on Aug. 28, 2016.