Insight Orthopedics & Sports Medicine – Sports offer many social, emotional, and physical benefits for children and teens. But because their bodies are growing and their coordination is still developing, young people are more likely than adults to experience injuries while participating in athletic activities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency departments in the U.S. treat nearly 3 million youth sports injuries each year, and many more go unreported. 

Fortunately, most sports injuries are preventable when coaches, parents, and athletes follow common sense safety guidelines. As we recognize National Youth Sports Safety Week July 20-26 and prepare for another school year, here are six things young athletes should do to be safe, healthy, and prepared for a positive sports experience.  

Get Sports Physicals

The first step to ensuring safety during athletic activities is remembering to get a sports physical  or pre-participation physical examination (PPE). Although most schools and organized youth sports programs require an annual physical, students who participate in non-school sanctioned activities or are physically active should also get one. A sports physical does not replace an annual exam with a child’s physician, but it does assess a number of health factors that may disrupt a young person’s ability to participate in a sport. 

What should a young athlete expect during a physical? A doctor will review medical history, height and weight, blood pressure, pulse, and vision. They will also perform a thorough fitness exam of the heart, lungs, abdomen, and joints to test strength and ensure the athlete has no physical limitations, such as asthma. Healthcare providers, coaches, and school administrators want to make getting sports physicals as easy as possible for students, and most are performed in doctor’s offices or schools. Physicals should be scheduled about six weeks before the sports season begins. Remember to come prepared with forms, medication lists, and other important information that will give your doctor a thorough understanding of anything that could put the athlete at risk. 

Keep Training Age-Appropriate

Sports competition and training often begins at a young age when children are first introduced to organized competitive sports. However, it’s important to remember that young people are not fully developed and require age-appropriate training so they can excel at their sport and avoid serious injuries. The National Alliance for Youth Sports has many resources and guidelines on what students can expect from different programs at all age levels. 

Between school, jobs, and other family commitments, young people have many responsibilities that can easily lead to burnout. Encourage your child or teen to maintain healthy boundaries and realistic expectations in their athletic pursuits so they can stay well on a mental, emotional, and physical level. Overtraining varies between athletes, but a decrease in performance, chronic pain, personality changes, sleep loss or gain, and lack of ambition are all common signs that should be addressed. The American Academy of Pediatrics has published specific parameters that can help reduce burnout in young athletes.  

Use Proper Techniques and Equipment

Rules are the foundation of sports and provide an agreement of understanding between players.
Whether it’s throwing a football or swinging a baseball bat, every sport has proper techniques that must be mastered. In order for your student athlete to perform at their best and reduce the risk of injury, encourage them to practice regularly and wear appropriate safety gear at all times. Coaches should fully understand the rules of their sport and be able to teach and mentor players as they practice. 

Young athletes should also practice safely at home and have access to the materials and equipment to do so. The American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine has many resources for parents and students on reducing and preventing sports injuries. Review this information with your child or teen to ensure they understand best practices for their specific sport and age group.

Think About Stretching and Flexibility 

Warm-up exercises generally take a backseat to sports-related activities for young athletes.
However, making stretching and flexibility a priority is one of the most important things children and teens can do to stay safe and have a positive athletic experience. Although stretching is incorporated into organized sports at the beginning and end of practices, it’s not uncommon for young people to rush through them so they can start playing sooner. Young athletes should not only take time to stretch properly, but they should also understand the important role these exercises play in improving performance and reducing risk of serious injury. 

Stretching the right way before and after vigorous activity offers a range of benefits, including improving motion, increasing blood flow, reducing muscle soreness, and minimizing the risk of tendon or muscle tears. If you have questions about which stretching and flexibility exercises you should be using, reach out to your coaches or sports medicine physician. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons also has a guide for young athletes.

Remember to Hydrate 

Staying hydrated plays an essential role in almost every aspect of sports performance. Yet many young athletes are at risk of dehydration, especially when the weather is hot. Water has many important functions in an active body, including transporting nutrients, lubricating joints and tissues, and regulating temperature. It can also aid in mental clarity and performance.
To prevent dehydration, it is important to remind children and teens to drink plenty of fluids before and after physical activity. Physicians recommend drinking one ounce of water for every 10 pounds of body weight. For example, a 100-pound athlete should drink 10 ounces of water in 15-30 minute intervals. Sports drinks also offer hydration, but water is the ideal choice. Watch for signs of dehydration, such as fatigue, nausea, headache, disorientation, and reduced physical performance. If a young person has any of these symptoms, they should rest and drink water immediately. If symptoms do not improve, seek medical attention.   

Prioritize Communication 

From encouraging your student athlete to building team connections, communication between parents, students, and coaches plays an important role in youth sports. Before the first day of practice, allow your child or teen to ask questions, voice concerns, and review procedures. By building rapport early on with coaching staff, students will feel confident going into the season and will have a better understanding of roles, expectations, personal responsibility, and teamwork.
Whether it’s managing schedules or simply staying up to date, parents also require plenty of communication. Be sure your emergency contact information is current and that you are receiving all team emails, text messages, and online tools or apps being used. In youth sports, there can never be too much information!
Playing sports can be a fun and rewarding experience for young people, but getting injured is not. No matter if your child or teen is a beginner or is an experienced athlete, remembering these tips will keep them healthy and safe year round. Our experienced physicians at Insight Orthopedics and Sports Medicine specialize in helping young athletes prevent and treat sports injuries. Contact us today at (810) 275-9333 or online to schedule an appointment.