7 Ways to Protect Your Child in Sports

With more and more kids getting hurt on the field, doctors share how parents and babysitters can protect young athletes in the making.

kids playing soccer

Yippee! Your son made the pee-wee football team. Woo hoo! Your daughter is the basketball captain. But along with the fun of sports camaraderie and important physical exercise comes the fear of injuries.

Being involved in sports is a great way for kids to learn the benefits of sportsmanship and discipline. But because young kids are still growing and developing, they are less coordinated and have slower reaction times, so even pee-wee soccer can lead to serious injuries.

Knowing the causes of sports injuries will help you prevent, recognize and treat them properly. Here are a few simple tips that will help make your child's sports experience healthy, safe and fun.

  1. Get Fit
    Overall conditioning is key to injury prevention, regardless of the sport says Dr. William P. Needham, III, author of Kids, Sports, and Concussion and Director of Brain Injury Research at Children's Hospital Boston. "The fastest, strongest athlete is less likely to get hurt," says Dr. Needham. Make sure that your child uses some of his or her daily down time being active. This can be a great job for a sporty nanny or after-school babysitter. Look for someone who has experience in the sports your child loves and you'll have an instant mentor/coach!

  2. Start Slow
    When returning to sports after taking a prior season off, Director of Sports Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, C. David Geier, Jr. M.D. advises an easy does it approach. "Don't play 90-minutes on day one. Work up to that by starting with drills and shorter practices."

  3. Vary Sports
    Dr. estimates that half of all sports-related injuries are the result of overuse that occur from inadequate warm-up, improper technique or repetitive actions that put too much stress on the bones and muscles. "Frequently, kids play too much of one particular activity without enough time to rest. Playing one sport year-round stresses the same body part over and over." If your child does incur an overuse injury, healing may require modifying or temporarily eliminating that particular activity.

  4. Select the Right Coach
    Look for leagues and teams that are committed to safety and injury prevention. Make sure the team coach has training in First Aid and CPR and a philosophy that puts the kids' well-being front and center. Geier suggests asking these questions: What is the coach's level of training for the sport? What teams has he worked with in the past? How long has he coached? Doe he hold any kind of professional certification? Most of these answers can be ascertained by chatting with the coach for a few minutes. Trust your instincts!

  5. Use Proper, Well-maintained Equipment and Venues
    Correctly sized and well-maintained safety gear such as helmets, mouth guards, padding and athletic cups and supporters are important for protection. Make sure the protective gear is approved by the organizations that govern that particular sport by checking the website. Inspect the playing fields and courts to make sure they are well cared for to prevent injuries from tripping or falling. To avoid shin splints, high-impact sports like basketball or track should always be played on flexible surfaces like hardwood and asphalt, not concrete.

  6. Treat Acute Injuries Immediately
    If a child is injured as the result of trauma, administer First Aid and follow up with a visit to the doctor. The best players are sometimes prompted to play through the pain for the good of the team. That's a bad idea, says Dr. Geier. "Playing through the pain can lead to stress fractures and cause injuries to muscles and joints."

  7. Watch out for Concussions
    According to Dr. Needham, more sports concussions are diagnosed every year, including among young kids. "Concussions account for 15 percent of all sport-related injuries in high school sports. We don't have good data for younger kids but extrapolating from high school, we estimate that it is also about 15 percent." See a primary care physician or go to urgent care if your child exhibits concussion symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, nausea and light sensitivity after a fall or hit to the head.

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