National Youth Sports Week is held every July, honoring the importance of sports in the development of children and adolescents. Sports improve physical health while teaching confidence and mental strength, but come with their own difficulties and hazards. So whatever sport your child plays, make sure they're prepared for the physical demands of athletics. Below we've got some tips to ensure that every season is safe for everyone!
Play and Train Properly
Most sports injuries can be prevented with forethought, as many injuries in youth sports are due to young players not being made ready for the demands of the game. Here's how to avoid that:
Physical exams: get a sports-specific physical exam before the season begins.
Conditioning exercises: strength-training and cardio exercises are important, especially before the season begins, to get game-ready.
Warming up: warm up before all practices and games. Even before you stretch, a light jog or calisthenics are necessary to ready your body without putting too much stress on it.
Proper nutrition and hydration: eat full meals of healthy food with high nutritional value and drink water regularly.
Proper technique and play: all athletes should learn the rules thoroughly as well as the proper physical techniques required by the sport. Coaches, referees, and involved parents should know and enforce rules and techniques. Poor play and officiating can cause many injuries.
Don't Play Injured
This is an understated problem in youth sports: playing hurt. Overuse injuries are common in youth sports, as growing adolescents cannot handle on the same level of stress on their bones, muscles, or tendons as adult athletes. Combined with the pressure that can be placed on young players, injuries don't get a chance to heal properly, and worsen with each game. If you're an athlete or parent, pay attention to these signs of overuse injuries:
- Pain after physical activity.
- Pain in the affected area during physical activity, with no acute cause.
- Chronic pain even at rest.
If you're a young athlete and you feel signs of overuse injury, fatigue, burnout, or concussion, speak up! Sit out if you have to. You have control over your body, and no one should feel pressured to participate in a sport that may endanger them. Parents, watch for signs of these issues with your child, and encourage them to be honest about the physical or mental stresses they may be facing during sports.
Use Proper Gear
Many school sports provide equipment, but any athlete should know how to choose the right gear:
Use appropriate gear for the sport, and inspect it thoroughly to make sure it's in proper shape.
Check the fit! Make sure your helmet or other protective equipment fits snugly and comfortably.
Replace your helmet after any serious fall or head impact; they can only withstand a single impact of this nature.
Know the Signs of Concussion
Any sport carries the potential for a concussion, when a blow to the head or body causes the head or brain to rapidly move back and forth. This movement can cause the brain to bounce or twist inside the skull, damaging or stretching brain cells and possibly causing chemical changes to the brain. There may be no visible damage when a concussion occurs - you may not even have been hit in the head! That's why knowing what to look for, both immediately afterward and in the days following a potential injury, can be crucial to getting someone the help they need. These may include:
- Body numbness or tingling.
- Coma or semi-comatose state: not alert, unable to respond to others.
- Difficulty speaking or swallowing.
- Difficulty thinking: memory problems, slow thought processing, poor judgment, poor attention span, difficulty "thinking straight."
- Inappropriate emotional responses: irritability, frustrated easily, inappropriate crying or laughing.
- Loss of bowel control.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Paralysis or difficulty moving.
- Poor coordination or difficulty with balance.
- Respiratory problems.
- Slow breathing rate combined with an increase in blood pressure.
- Slow pulse.
- Spinal fluid leakage: a thin, clear fluid coming out the ears or nose
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or difficulty hearing.
- Vision problems: blindness, blurred or double vision, sensitivity to light, loss of eye movement.
Watch the Temperature
Summer may be ending, but the heat is still an issue when you're exerting yourself on the field. Most fall sports are outdoors, where young athletes and the adults responsible for them should always account for temperature. Here are some tips on athletics when the sun's out:
Stay hydrated! Fill up on water regularly and before any exercise.
Excessive sweating means you should take in more water.
Stop for frequent water breaks during any physical activity or work.
Drink the right liquids! Overly cold beverages can cramp your stomach, and sugary or caffeinated beverages can dehydrate you.
Rest in a cool, shaded place if showing any signs of heat stroke, exhaustion, or serious dehydration.