7 Tips to Keep Kids Safe & Healthy
By Olivia DeLong
Sports can help kids burn off extra energy and stay healthy, but unfortunately injuries among young athletes are very common. More than one million people ages 19 and younger went to emergency rooms for sports injuries in 2013 alone. Concussions, broken bones, sprains, bruises and overuse injuries are some of the most common. Still, injuries vary depending on sport and the type of movement being performed.
“In a runner, we often see shin splints or overuse knee pain, in a swimmer we might see shoulder pain and in a baseball player, elbow or shoulder pain,” says pediatric sports medicine specialist Brooke Pengel, MD. We talked with Dr. Pengel to learn how parents and coaches can help prevent these kid injuries.
Tip #1: Invest in the right gear
Protective gear like helmets and mouth guards won’t work properly if they don’t fit right. And while it may be tempting to recycle hand-me-down cleats and pads, make sure they fit properly and are in good shape before sending your child onto the field.
“A lot of times, the equipment is very expensive. I think recycling can save money if kids are playing multiple sports,” says Dr. Pengel. But, that’s not always the best idea. “You can get into trouble if the equipment is older or if it's not well maintained. It won’t do its job,” she adds.
Seasoned coaches who know the rules and regulations can help you select the right protective gear. For information about the safest athletic equipment, parents can also visit the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment’s website.
Tip #2: Emphasize technique and using equipment properly
Kids are asked to execute highly athletic strength training maneuvers without knowing the proper form, says Pengel. Practicing such complicated moves incorrectly can cause injuries in young athletes.
Parents should make sure that coaches properly train kids before sending them out to play a game. Stretching and warming up can also help prevent muscle tears, sprains and reduce muscle tension.
Tip #3: Supervise
“Supervision is so important. It can mean the difference between healthy participation and an injury that can actually remove that child from play,” says Pengel.
Your child’s coach should have first aid training, know the signs of a concussion and enforce the safety rules. “As they’re growing and getting stronger, children are not even aware of how their strength can hurt another child,” says Pengel. In any sport where there’s rough contact, the zero tolerance policy should be in place for unsafe play. Children’s skill level should help determine the group or team they’re on. This helps ensure that kids are competing fairly and safely.
Tip #4: Be supportive
There might be specific sports you wish your kindergartener would get involved in, but your kid needs to enjoy the sport, too. “Loss of interest and burnout are very common in children, especially with the athletes who are participating in one sport at the exclusion of another,” says Pengel. If your child seems tired, anxious or reluctant to participate, then it’s time to talk about finding a new sport or activity.
“When kids are young, they don't really know what they like and if they're not exposed to a variety of sports, they can get pigeonholed into one sport,” says Pengel.
Talk to your kids about their interests, listen to their thoughts and let them know it’s okay if they want to try another sport. Encouraging athletic activity outside of organized sports can also promote a lifelong enjoyment of fitness.
Tip #5: Practice healthy eating habits
It’s no secret that a healthy diet will help your child power through their games, but what does a healthy diet entail? Kids need enough fuel to participate in sports and they need enough of what’s called energy availability, says Pengel.
A proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats is the most important part of a healthy diet because it allows young athletes to perform and recover. And when it comes to encouraging a healthy diet — planning is key.
“Kids are busy and at school most of the day, so planning for nutrition and breaks where they can fuel their body is really important.” Pack lunches and snacks for days when they’re eating on the go so they’re more likely to make better eating decisions. MyPlate.gov is a great resource for healthy eating tips.
Tip #6: Make sure they’re staying hydrated
Hydration is important any time your child gets a lot of physical activity. “During the school year, if kids aren’t bringing a water bottle and drinking throughout the day, it's very hard for them to catch up after school and in the evening,” says Pengel.
A good rule of thumb: have your child drink every 15 to 20 minutes while being physically active. For high intensity sporting events that last more than one hour, have your kid consume sports drinks with electrolytes. These sports drinks replace sodium and potassium depleted through sweating.
Tip #7: Notify coaches of respiratory issues or allergies
Pengel says that up to one in five children have exercise-induced asthma. “Parents and coaches of athletes need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of asthma attacks and allergic reactions and what to do if they come up on the sports field or in childhood play,” says Pengel.
At the beginning of the season, notify athletic trainers and coaches of your child’s conditions and let them know how to handle any problems. “Thankfully, asthma and respiratory care is very advanced and the treatments to keep kids more comfortable while exercising are exceptional,” says Pengel.