It’s estimated that over a million children get injured every year playing sports. Only severe pediatric injuries treated in emergency rooms are reported to government agencies, so ankle sprains, hamstring pulls, torn tendons and jammed fingers seen by the family physician go undocumented.
Here are some tips to help you minimize the risks your children take when they play sports.
Make sure your child always wears properly fitting safety equipment.
The better the fit and quality of the protective equipment your child wears, the less severe the injuries will be. For example, a boy wearing his older brother’s too-large football helmet will receive more severe injuries than if he were wearing a football helmet that fit properly. “A lot of times, younger children receive hand-me-down equipment from their older siblings,” says Dr. Richard Hinton, M.D., of Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, one of the few pediatric sports medicine specialists in the United States. “Hand-me-downs are okay if they fit well and meet current standards.” Standards created and updated because of scientific studies will help to keep your child safe. Like child safety seats, it’s important to make sure your child’s sports safety equipment is current.
Ask the coach to check your child’s equipment and make sure that it fits properly.
Teach your child to play by the rules. On some teams, winning is more important than playing a good game. “If kids who are playing sports are playing for the wrong reasons, they’re more likely to get injured,” warns Dr. Hinton.
The Positive Coaching Alliance, a non-profit group of sports professionals and coaches, suggests that parents, “Tell your child before each game that you are proud of him regardless of how well he plays.” To play well, kids need to know that it’s okay to lose the game. During the game, don’t yell obscenities, instruct your child or do anything else you might regret later. Instead, offer your child praise and positive recognition so he can play his very best. After the game, thank the officials, thank the coach, tell your child how proud you are of the good work he did and listen to what your child thought about the game. When playing sports means having fun, instead of just winning, children obey the rules and enjoy themselves more.”
Don’t let your children play themselves into shape.
Encourage your child to exercise throughout the summer and not wait until the last few weeks before school. “It’s really common for high schoolers to work at the mall all summer, then step into the hot weather just before school starts to begin fall sports practice and work themselves into shape,” says Dr. Hinton. Not only are the kids exercising as hard as possible after months of resting, but they also expect their bodies to work hard in a harsh environment. This risky practice increases the possibility of heat stroke and muscle injury.
Meet the coach.
It’s important to know your child’s coach. Do you know whether the coach cares more about winning than teaching positive character traits? You want to make sure that the coach is a positive part of your child’s social environment and won’t encourage him to play with a minor injury when it may mean a team victory.
The coach needs to know that you’re bringing a positive attitude to the team. “Coaches feel better when parents are active and engaged, when they’re not stereotypically yelling on the side, but show appropriate concern,” says Dr. Hinton.
Make sure the coach has an emergency action plan.
What’s going to happen when a chid goes down?” asks Dr. Hinton. “Your primary piece of equipment is the telephone and knowing how to get the emergency 911 system engaged.” Make sure the action plan contains important information such as how the parents will be contacted, how ambulances will be called, and the location of the nearest hospital. Make sure the coach has your correct emergency contact information, including your cell phone number.
“There should be a policy manual well thought out ahead of time,” he adds.
Don’t play the same sport year round.
A new trend in children’s sports that concerns Dr. Hinton is the tendency to play the same sport year-round. “The more time kids spend in competitive situations, the more likely they are to be injured.” Kids who play on competitive leagues focus more on winning, which increases injury rates. “This concept of 9-year-old children preparing for college scholarships increases pressure and keeps them from learning team concepts,” says Dr. Hinton.
Kids’ sports should focus on fun and learning positive life skills such as sportsmanship, integrity and responsibility. Any time your child feels pressured to win, fun disappears and injury rates increase. Be a positive role model, take a few simple precautions, and your child will exercise injury-free.