Playing a sport is one of the best ways kids can keep healthy. But along with the benefits of regular physical exercise come risks. Children’s bodies are still growing, so the potential for damage to bones, tendons, muscles, and ligaments is greater than it is for adults. Growing bones contain areas known as growth plates that are weaker than surrounding tissues and particularly vulnerable to injury. Injuries that might cause only minor damage to an adult could lead to a serious growth plate injury and even a broken bone in a growing child. Children who play contact sports are also at risk for trauma to the spinal cord and neck.
Here are a few tips to keep your kids out of the hospital:
Visit your pediatrician for a pre-season physical examination before beginning a sport.
Be sure all sports equipment and playing fields are safe and properly maintained. More than 200,000 injuries occur on playground equipment each year, and unsecured or defective equipment can increase the risk of harm. Check that playing fields are not riddled with holes and ruts that might cause kids to fall. Kids doing high-impact sports, like basketball and running, should do them on surfaces like tracks and wooden basketball courts, which are more forgiving surfaces than concrete.
Qualified adults should supervise any team sport or activity in which kids participate. Select leagues and teams that have the same commitment to safety and injury prevention that you do.
Check that your child’s coaches are trained in first aid and CPR and have a plan for responding to emergencies. Coaches should be well versed in the proper use of equipment, and should enforce rules on equipment use.
Dress your child appropriately. In cold weather dress children in layers, so that as they warm they can remove one layer at a time. In hot weather, kids should wear thin, light-colored clothing. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen. Make sure that your child’s shoes are appropriate for his activity.
Help your child warm up. Warming up prepares the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, and the heart for the demands of the sport.
Use properly sized, safety-tested, and well-fitting protective gear when appropriate for a particular sport. Be sure that children understand the correct use of protective gear.
Do not send kids to play a sport that they’re unprepared to play. Make sure that your child knows how to play the sport before going out on the field.
Never push a child to play a sport if she feels uncomfortable or physically incapable of participating in the sport. Likewise, never push a child who is injured while playing to “play through” the pain of an injury.
Try to group children according to weight, size, and skill rather than chronological age, particularly for contact sports. Sometimes children who are small for their age attempt to perform beyond their capacity in order to keep up with larger and stronger peers, resulting in an increased risk for injury.
If your child is tired or sick, do not make her play.
Always seek medical care when a child becomes injured or develops a persistent symptom that interferes with his or her ability to play.
Keep your child hydrated. Kids should drink a glass of water 15 minutes before they begin exercising. If it’s warm, they should make sure to drink water every 20 minutes during activity.
Make sure your child has time to cool down. Give her a few minutes to slow her activity before stopping, and wait until her skin is dry before taking her into an air-conditioned room.