Playing sports is a great way for a child to stay fit and healthy, to learn about teamwork, make friends and develop a sense of personal satisfaction. Kids may be resilient, but they can still get hurt playing sports.
There are several guidelines that coaches, parents and kids can follow to help prevent sports injuries. The most important tip is to encourage children to maintain a good base of fitness throughout the year and avoid an abrupt start to a new routine during sports seasons. Young athletes should be encouraged to exercise for fun and fitness all year long and not just to win during sports seasons.
The American College of Sports Medicine offers these tips and reminders to parents for maintaining a safe exercise environment for child athletes:
- Does the coach have a first aid training and an emergency action plan?
- Is there a safety policy regarding injury, illness, and inclement weather?
- Does the coach have parents' emergency contact information?
- Do the parents have contact information for the coach?
- Is there a first aid kit always on hand?
- Is there available water, hydration at all games and practices?
- Is there a scheduled warm-up and cool down at games and practices?
- Does the child receive guidelines and recommendations about proper safety equipment?
- Is safety equipment required for play?
- Are children allowed adequate rest between games and practices?
- Are sportsmanship and fair play core values of the program and the coach?
Children can be particularly susceptible to sports injuries for a variety of reasons. Those who are younger than eight years old are less coordinated and have slower reaction times than adults because they are still growing and developing. In addition, kids mature at different rates. Often there is a substantial difference in height and weight between kids of the same age. And when kids of varying sizes play sports together, there may be an increased risk of injury.
Exercise, practice and games should always include a warm-up and cool-down, flexibility exercises, and supervision by a coach or trainer. Weight training should also be performed in the presence of a qualified instructor or supervisor.
Protective eyewear can help lower the risk of childhood eye injuries
Every year, more than 100,000 children suffer from sports-related eye injuries in the United States, according to the National Eye Institute. Sports with the highest rates of injuries are baseball and softball, ice hockey, and racquet sports, according to the eye institute.
Parents should stress the importance of safety to their children first and schedule an appointment with their physicians or ophthalmologists to discuss what equipment their children might need.
The National Eye Institute recommends that parents whose children play sports:
- Talk to family physicians, ophthalmologists or optometrists
- Get a protective eyewear
- Educate children to put on protective eyewear before playing sports; and
- Have a comprehensive eye exam regularly.
Prevention is very important because sports-related eye injuries may result in loss of vision. By asking questions and encouraging children to wear proper equipment many of these injuries may be avoided.
For more information, log on to the American Optometric Association website.
Leading concussion experts are calling for more awareness and new prevention programs for high school athletes in other sports. Concussion symptoms can be very subtle, but can be significant enough to pose a great risk to the athlete.
"It is critical that we treat younger athletes more conservatively than we have in the past," said Dr. Jim Sterling, a physical medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas who served as head physician for the 2006 U.S. Winter Olympic team. "New evidence-based research on concussion gives health care professionals guidelines for not only safe return to play but, more importantly, optimal return to classroom learning. Academics should be a consideration of any conversation concerning sports concussions."
Texas Health Ben Hogan Sports Medicine, which started its concussion management program in 2008, is the region's leader preventing and treating concussions among local athletes and offers neuro-cognitive testing to schools and clubs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for sports concussions. For more information, or 214-345-5010.
"Concussions are a serious problem if untreated or misdiagnosed," said Dr. Damond Blueitt, a sports medicine specialist on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. "We have to remember, these are student athletes. There's no excuse for putting them at increased risk for serious brain injuries when there are tools out there to improve how we can care for them. We want athletes to have a fun experience in a sport."