By: Benjamin A. Abeyta, MD, Aurora Health Care

Lots of kids participate in youth sports. It helps with teamwork, socialization, develops stronger muscles, and improves endurance and healthy weight management. Plus, it can build confidence and expand the child’s social and team skills through interactions with teammates and coaches.

A lot of parents wonder about the safety of sports. With appropriate equipment, training and coaching, children can safely and enjoyably participate in their favorite sports.

Here are some steps parents can take to help ensure their child enjoys sports participation with minimum risk for sports injuries and maximum enjoyment.

  • Start your child’s sports participation with a good sports physical. Check with your primary care provider or school athletic department for more about what the physical should include.
  • Ask your child’s coach or sports organizers what type of training or conditioning your child should do before starting the sport. Inadequate training can increase the risks for injury. If an activity such as weight training is recommended, make sure your child has good guidance for how to do it safely.
  • Make sure your child has the right protective equipment for the sport. It needs to be the right size, too. Improperly sized equipment can be a safety hazard. Your child’s coach or the sport’s organizers can guide you on the equipment needs for the sport. In some cases, gently used equipment may be available.
  • Check that your child knows how to correctly use the equipment. Follow up with the child to ensure she/he consistently uses it correctly. As an example, a helmet that isn’t properly fitted and secured provides inadequate protection and may cause additional injury if it comes off.
  • Regularly remind your child to stay hydrated while playing and waiting to play. A filled water bottle is an essential part of your child’s safety equipment. Even on a cool, cloudy day, drinking enough water is important.
  • Track your child’s nutrition. Overeating to quickly bulk up or under-eating to reach a weight goal can be harmful. In some cases the harm can be long-term. Visit with your primary care provider or a registered dietitian for reliable guidance about your child’s nutrition needs.
  • Focus on fun. The main reason kids like sports is that they’re fun. Help your kids have fun by avoiding strict expectations. Overly high expectations can actually hurt your child’s performance. Instead, focus on manageable goals that help your child focus on processes and techniques. Regularly acknowledge skill improvements, effort and positive teamwork.

Pain Is a Sign Something Is Wrong

Children should avoid playing sports when in pain or tired. Ongoing pain beyond normal bumps and bruises should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. Know the most common sports injuries and how to prevent them.

Sports medicine providers are seeing more student athletes who have injuries — especially of the elbow and knees — resulting from repetitive use of muscles and bones that aren’t mature enough to handle the demands. This often happens as athletes focus on one sport year-round or play on more than one team during the season.

Taking breaks from one sport and playing others can help your child’s physical skills development and prevent overuse injuries. See how much may be too much for your child.

If your child has a sports injury, sports health professionals can help with diagnosis, treatment and rehab that will get your child safely back out there.

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