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Sports Safety and Kids

Deborah Elbaum, M.D.
Dec. 5, 2008

Protective gear and treating injuries

At baseball tryouts last fall, my 9-year-old dove for a fly ball, caught it, and fell to the ground on his outstretched arm. An x-ray confirmed what his intense pain implied: he had broken one of the arm bones near his wrist.

Cast-free a few months later, he eagerly regained his shortstop and pitching roles on his baseball team. Watching Little League games is a treat -- that is, until a player is injured. Along the way, we witnessed batters hit by pitches, outfielders colliding when reaching for the same pop fly, and players becoming ill from the heat.

Participating in a sport -- whether team or individual, organized or pick-up -- can help kids of all ages stay fit and allow them to learn new skills. Team sports offer an added opportunity to work and cooperate with others. But the fun quickly dissipates when a child sustains a serious injury.

By following some basic guidelines, you can help reduce the risk of your child becoming injured.

Choosing an activity

For preschool age, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children stay active through free play, sports, and movement classes. Once they can follow directions, older children may be ready for organized team sports. Keep the following in mind:

  • If you have any concerns about your child's health regarding participation in a sport or activity, check with your child's health care provider. In addition, organized sports may require a preseason physical exam.
  • Find an activity where the children are grouped by skill level, especially for contact sports. For high impact sports such as football, weight limits will apply; they're an extremely important safety requirement.
  • Make sure the activity is run by a qualified adult. Team coaches should be trained in First Aid and CPR.
  • Remember, the goal is for your child to have fun. Consider your child's strengths and temperament, and choose an activity you think he or she will enjoy!

Proper protective gear is essential

From head to toe, safety gear can protect different parts of the body. Find out what your child needs before an activity begins.


  • Helmets can protect against head and brain injuries by absorbing the force of impact during a crash or fall.
  • Some sports requiring helmets are: football, hockey, snow boarding, lacrosse, baseball and softball (for batting), biking, horseback riding, skateboarding and in-line skating.
  • Use the correct type of helmet for the sport being played.
  • Helmets should fit snugly, and straps should be fastened. For certain league sports, the team coaches or a representative of the league will check the fit of your child's helmet when it is assigned to them. If you discover later in the season that the helmet doesn't fit properly or is not in good condition, tell your child's coach right away and ask for a replacement.
  • Make sure your child's helmet meets appropriate safety standards.

Mouth guards:

  • Help prevent injuries to the teeth, tongue, lips and lining of cheek.
  • Should be worn in contact sports that carry a risk of head injury, such as football, hockey, lacrosse, basketball, volleyball, boxing, or wrestling.
  • Typically cover the top teeth and can protect orthodontic braces.
  • Range from inexpensive and store-bought to custom fit by your child's dentist

Eye protection:

  • Polycarbonate plastic provides the most impact protection.
  • Helmets with attached face masks or shields may be worn for sports like football, ice hockey, lacrosse, softball and baseball (for batting).
  • Sports goggles may be worn for soccer, basketball, racquet sports and snowboarding.
  • Prescription goggles can be ordered for children who wear glasses.


  • Cleats, worn in sports such as football, soccer, baseball and softball, provide traction and prevent slipping on the ground.
  • Check if any special footwear is recommended for your child's activity. Certain sports require a specific type of cleat.?? Baseball cleats are designed differently that football cleats.?? When your child is in an instructional league, the type of cleat (or just use of regular sneakers) may not be an issue.?? But, when your child is playing competitively, use the cleats designed for the sport they're playing.

Other pads and guards

Various pads or guards may be recommended; ask your coach or other parents if you're not sure. Some examples are:

  • Elbow, wrist and knee guards for in-line skating, skateboarding, or riding a scooter
  • Shin pads for soccer
  • Rib protection for football and hockey
  • Knee and elbow pads for basketball
  • Protective cups for boys -- for hockey, baseball, football, basketball, and other contact sports. Some sports will require this in order for your child to participate.

Time to play

Now outfitted, your child is ready to play! To help prevent mishaps during an activity or game, you can:

  • Visually inspect the playing area for holes and other dangers such as broken glass
  • Have your child warm up and stretch his or her muscles beforehand
  • Make sure the equipment used is appropriate for the size of your child
  • Teach your child the rules of the game
  • Make sure your child stays hydrated, especially in the hot weather
  • Do not insist that your child continue playing if he or she becomes injured. Playing injured only results in more serious injury.

What to do if an injury occurs

Despite our best preparations, accidents happen. There are two basic categories of injuries: acute and overuse.

Acute injuries

Caused by a sudden trauma, acute injuries commonly include sprains (a partial or complete tear of a ligament), strains (a partial or complete tear of a muscle or tendon), contusions (bruises), ACL tears (ligaments in the knee), and fractures (broken bones).

Severe acute injuries can also include damage to the eye, brain (such as a concussion), skull or spinal cord.


Sprains and strains can be managed with RICE therapy:

Seek medical attention if your child experiences the following:

Important: Never move anyone who sustains a severe head or neck injury and is lying on the ground. Call for emergency medical assistance. If you're not sure if there's been a head or neck injury and the person is on the ground, do not move him.

Overuse injuries

These are caused by a series of small injuries to the muscles and bones. Occurring over time, they usually result from repetitive actions. For example, repetitive throwing can cause elbow pain and tenderness, or Little League elbow. Swimmer's shoulder, or inflammation of the shoulder, results from a repetitive overhead motion.


It's important to diagnose and treat overuse injuries so that they don't develop into more serious problems. Your child's health care provider may recommend temporarily decreasing an activity, giving the body time to heal. He or she can also advise whether your child needs further specialized care.

For more information:

Sports Safety

Sports Safety for Teens/Nemours Foundation Sports Injuries

Deborah Elbaum received her M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and enjoys writing about various health topics. She lives in Massachusetts with her family.

  • Rest -- the injured area
  • Ice -- apply for 20 minutes at a time, four times a day
  • Compression -- with a bandage, wrap, etc., to reduce swelling
  • Elevation -- keep the area raised to help decrease swelling
    • Change of consciousness
    • Severe pain when the injured area is touched or moved
    • Pain interfering with daily activity or sleep
    • Swelling
    • Limping or trouble bearing weight on the injured area
    • Loss of range of motion
    • Numbness or altered sensation
    • Signs of infection, such as redness, warmth, swelling or red streaks on the skin
    • Treatment of ACL tears may include physical therapy and/or surgery depending upon the severity of the injury and your child's level of participation in specific sports.?? Your doctor will advise you.
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