Taking part in recreational athletics or organized team sports can benefit young children, adolescents, and older teens in a variety of ways. Besides giving them an opportunity to hone their physical skills, become more disciplined, and stretch their limits, playing sports can also help young people stay fit and learn good sportsmanship.
Whether you’re signing your child up for their first season of little league or their fifth season of traveling soccer, hockey, or gymnastics, it’s important to recognize that even the youngest athletes face some risk of sustaining a sports-related injury.
Because they’re less coordinated, react more slowly, and are still developing, younger children are susceptible to sports injuries. And as they grow bigger, stronger, and more committed to their chosen sport, their potential for injury increases, both because greater forces are at play and because older kids are more likely to experience repetitive stress injuries.
Here are a few important steps you can take to help your young athlete stay safe and reduce their risk of getting hurt on the football field, in the pool, or wherever their sport takes them.
1. Provide the right gear
Virtually all sports require some type of protective equipment for safe and optimal performance. Whether your child needs a helmet, faceguard, and multiple body pads to play football, or they simply require a pair of supportive running shoes for cross-country races, it’s important to provide them with the right gear and make sure it fits well.
2. Schedule adequate recovery time
Young athletes run the risk of injuring themselves through repetitive stress, or overuse. While overuse injuries are the most prevalent type of pediatric sports injury, they’re also largely preventable.
To reduce your child’s risk of developing a sprained ligament, strained muscle, stress fracture, or other overuse injury, make sure they rest after each practice, game, and event. To promote optimal recovery, schedule at least one day off each week, and one month off per year, from their chosen sport. But encourage your child to stay physically active during their hiatus.
3. Encourage a variety of sports
When it comes to preventing overuse injuries in young athletes, recovery is just one half of the equation. Cross-training, or playing a variety of different sports, is another good way to ensure your child isn’t continuously placing the same type of stress on the same muscles and joints.
The best cross-training approach for limiting sports injury risk is to encourage your child to play on just one team each season but to try different sports from one season to the next. Avoid allowing your child to specialize in a specific sport before late adolescence, as early specialization often leads to injury and burnout.
4. Communicate with your young athlete
Another good way to reduce your child’s risk of sports-related injury is to focus on their overall wellness and maintain an open line of communication. This means helping them understand how to listen to their bodies; it also means teaching them to seek help whenever they experience pain or something doesn’t feel right.
Let your young athlete know that they should never “play through the pain,” because pushing through physical pain often results in a more serious injury that could have been prevented with early intervention.
5. Schedule a preseason sports physical
Undergoing a sports physical before the start of a new sport or competitive season is one of the best ways to assess any potential areas of concern before your child starts an activity.
By evaluating your child’s blood pressure, heart rhythm, posture, strength, and flexibility, among other things, a preseason sports physical can determine if your child is fit enough to play, or if they have an underlying condition that could interfere with their ability to participate safely.
Preseason sports physicals also help ensure that any previous injuries, such as a sprain, fracture, or concussion, won’t be problematic when returning to a favorite sport or starting a new one.
Here at First Pediatric Care Center, we’re dedicated to helping young athletes stay safe, healthy, and injury-free. To learn more or schedule a pediatric sports physical, call our Gastonia, North Carolina, office today, or book an appointment online any time.