Playing sports offers children substantial health, academic and social benefits. At the same time, regardless of the sport(s) your child chooses, every sport carries some risk of injury. While some sports-related injuries may be inevitable, following these 10 suggestions can help your young athletes lessen their risks of a game-changing injury.
- Enforce an off-season. Athletes who specialize in one sport and who play that sport year-round are at highest risk for overuse injuries. Encourage your child to play more than one sport and enforce an “off-season” for his or her favorite or primary sport.
- Build a day of rest into the week. Athletes should have at least one day off per week to allow the time for recovery.
- Practice and play with good form. Young athletes should learn the biomechanically sound way to perform exercises and plays and always use proper technique to help avoid minor and serious injuries.
- Stop if the athlete experiences pain. This applies even if it is an important game. Pushing through an injury can lead to significant damage and keep the child out of the sport for much longer than if he or she had allowed time for recovery during the early stages of the injury.
- Take breaks during practice and play. Regular scheduled breaks for rest and hydration during practice and play are important for all youth sports. These breaks help to decrease the risk of injury and heat illness.
- Avoid the hottest times of the day (typically between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.). Minimize the risk of sun exposure and heat injury by having your children wear light clothing, stay out of the heat at the hottest times of the day, and drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise or play.
- Play safe. Rules against injury-provoking activities such as headfirst sliding in baseball and softball, spearing in football and body checking in ice hockey should be strictly enforced
- Wear the right gear. Make sure your child is armed with the necessary (and properly fitting) sports gear including pads, helmets, mouthpieces, eyewear, protective cups and the like. Your child should also be reminded that wearing protective gear is not authorization to engage in unnecessarily dangerous or risky activities.
- Build strength. Strengthening and conditioning exercises help to strengthen muscles used during play. This not only improves performance, but also helps to reduce risk of injury.
- Increase flexibility. The best time to enhance flexibility is when the muscles are warm after conditioning or play. Flexible muscles help to protect tendons and ligaments, which are the most frequent areas of injury.
Natalie Digate MuthContributor
Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD, FAAP is the Senior Advisor for Healthcare Solutions for the American Council on Exercise, a board-certified pediatrician and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a Diplomat of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, and ACE Certified Health Coach. She is the author of "Eat Your Vegetables and Other Mistakes Parents Make: Redefining How to Raise Healthy Eaters" and the textbook "Sports Nutrition for Health Professionals." She has been ACE certified since 1998.
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