Kids and teens who participate in sports will improve their physical fitness, establish lifelong healthy habits and they are less likely to be overweight or obese compared to non-athletes. They are also less likely to drop out of school and engage in risky behaviors including smoking, drugs, sex, and criminal activity. Participation in sports can lead to better performance in school, increased self-esteem, and other benefits. However, there are risks that come with sports participation and parents need to know what to look for to ensure their child stays safe.
Injuries and burnout are two of the most common consequences associated with sports participation. More serious consequences include dehydration, heat illness, concussions, complications from sickle cell trait, and death due to sudden cardiac arrest.
There is no way to prevent all possible injuries however, there are steps parents and coaches can take to ensure their children have a decreased risk of getting injured. Parents and coaches should follow the following guidelines to help prevent over-training and decrease risk of injuries while also helping prevent burnout:
- Children should get a sports physical prior to participation.
- Children (and adults) should perform 10 minutes of a dynamic warm-up every day before practice. A dynamic warm-up is a series of movements that stretches muscles, increases range of motion and activates the nervous system.
- Have children engage in an age-appropriate and sport specific strength and conditioning program. A good strength and conditioning coach can examine a child’s movement pattern for potential biomechanics issues (movement patterns), muscle imbalances and tight muscles – all of which can increase one’s risk for injury. Movement patterns are learned and reinforced through practice and when children were dollops constantly reinforce poor motor patterns they can increase their injury risk.
- Children should take rest breaks when necessary during practice.
- Give kids at least two days of rest each week. Rest is important both physically and psychologically.
- Increase training load (time, intensity etc.) by a maximum of 10% per week.
- Pay close attention to your child and be on the alert for pain, fatigue, a drop in school performance or a decreased interest in playing their sport.
- Young kids shouldn’t play one sport year-round. Noted orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, MD recommends kids take at least 2 months off per year, and preferably 3 – 4 months to avoid overuse and repetitive motion injuries.
- Children should wear appropriate protective gear including helmets, eye protection, mouth guards, pads, and protective cups for boys.
Many of the steps for the prevention of injuries can also help prevent burnout. Parents can get caught up in the competition, emotional drive for parenting validation and potential for monetary gains and therefore need to constantly assess how they are interacting with their children. Parents should pay attention and honor their child’s desires (do they want to play tennis or is this your dream?) as well as count their child’s physical and mental health as the number one priority.