Keeping Young Athletes Healthy on and off the Field
Youth sports are as popular as ever. From traditional sports – baseball, basketball and volleyball, for example – to emerging sports such as soccer, lacrosse, diving and karate to name only a few, your kids’ sports options continue to grow. While each sport is uniquely appealing, a common thread across all of them is the need to anticipate and prevent injuries in young athletes.
No single sports injury has received more attention recently than concussion. As a sports fan, you know the effects of multiple concussions are serious. And, as the parent of an athlete, you join your child’s coaches, counselors and teachers on a team of people who want to keep kids safe and healthy.
Injury Prevention for All Seasons
At University Hospital, our trauma team is committed to preventing pediatric trauma whenever and wherever we can. Our safety experts organize community events each month to educate the community, parents, athletic staff and caregivers on a variety of topics including sports safety and concussions. We work with the staffs at schools, clubs and youth teams throughout South Texas to diagnose and prevent both minor and major sports injuries.
Tips to Avoid Major and Minor Sports Injuries
The severity of sports injuries can range from minor scrapes and bruises to serious traumatic brain injury. Extra care before, during and after each game can significantly reduce your child’s chances of injury.
It’s important to make sure your child stays hydrated before, during and after game day. Drinking plenty of fluids helps prevent dehydration that results from sweating during exercise. When kids don’t drink enough water while playing sports, they could be at risk of dehydration, heat exhaustion or even heatstroke.
Plan ahead and follow these tips to help young athletes avoid dehydration:
- If you’re a coach, take routine water breaks.
- Provide water or make sure athletes have a water bottle for practices and games.
- Make sure athletes drink fluids – water is best – 30 minutes before the activity begins and every 15 to 20 minutes while they play. (Drinking water after practices and games is just as important!)
Kids will know if they’re drinking enough water if their urine is clear or light yellow. If they are not sufficiently hydrated, the most common symptoms are muscle cramping in the calves, back, arms or abdomen, called heat cramps.
More serious dehydration can lead to dizziness, nausea and rapid heartbeat. At this point, young athletes may be suffering from heat exhaustion, a precursor to heat stroke.
If an athlete is dehydrated or suffering from heat exhaustion, call 911. In the meantime, move the athlete to a shady spot and cool off the body with cold water. Insist the athlete be checked out by a doctor or medical personnel.
You encourage your children to be their best in whatever they do, but too much dedication to any one sport can be cause for concern. Practicing and playing for long hours, week after week, with few breaks can lead to overuse injuries. These simple tips can help.
Before the Season
Before starting a new sport, look for a preseason conditioning program or camp to gradually build your child’s strength and endurance. Increase the workout intensity gradually to allow their bodies to rest, rebuild and recover.
Before the Game
Kids are usually excited to get on the field, but make sure they warm up properly first. Stretching before practice and games improves flexibility and releases muscle tension to help prevent muscle tears or sprains.
During the Season
Young arms and legs need time to rest. Insist your kids get at least one to two days off each week during the season. Ask your kids to talk to you and their coaches about any pain, injury or illness they may have during or after any practices or games. Honest conversations about injury when they occur can ensure a simple injury does not become linger and worsen over time. It’s better to sit out one game than the entire season.
Visit the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine to learn more about sports-specific overuse injuries.
All concussions are serious. Most often, concussions result from a blow to the head or body that causes a rapid or whiplash-type movement of the head. The use of proper safety equipment is important in preventing concussions.
As a parent or coach, recognizing and responding quickly to these types of concussion symptoms in your kids is critical to prevent further injury:
- Loss of consciousness (even briefly)
- A dazed or stunned look, or “glassy” eyes
- Nausea or vomiting
- Balance problems or dizziness
- Double or blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Confusion, concentration or memory problems
Don’t take any chances. Athletes often receive mild concussions but don’t report subsequent injuries or symptoms. When left untreated and unreported, even mild injuries can have lifelong effects. Prompt recognition of the concussion is crucial to preventing prolonged effects.
If you have any doubt, play it safe and remove the athlete from the game until he or she can be evaluated by a healthcare professional. Brain rest is important if you suspect concussion. Any physical (or mental) activity takes the brain’s energy supply away from the recovery site. This can aggravate or prolong symptoms.
Learn more about concussion symptoms and protocols for school professionals, coaches and parents.