If you’re the parent of a child athlete, then safety is often at the forefront of your mind – even when winning is the only thing on theirs. As they continue to grow, your child’s muscles and bones are growing as well. Injuries to a child’s musculoskeletal system can have long-term implications for their health, even as they mature into adulthood.
Here are some ways parents and coaches can work together to keep child athletes safe on, and off, the field.
For most youth sports, some sort of protective gear or padding is available. Helmets can be used for some team sports, like baseball, and are essential for everyday solo activities like biking and skating. Shoulder, knee, or elbow pads, athletic supporters or cups, and mouthguards should also be used for high impact sports like hockey, soccer, and football. It can be helpful to ask your child’s coach about appropriate protective gear and safety requirements.
In addition to making sure your child is actually using this gear, it is also crucial to make sure that it is appropriately sized. Loose helmets and inappropriately placed padding will provide little-to-no protection in the event of a fall or collision.
For all children, but especially for child athletes, the importance of hydration cannot be understated. Dehydration is a major contributor to muscle fatigue and physical exhaustion, which both increase the risk of sports injuries. Keeping your child hydrated will help them replace the water they lose when they sweat, and can greatly reduce their risk for muscle cramps or heat exhaustion. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends drinking seven to ten ounces of water for every twenty minutes of exercise.
Drinking enough water will benefit your young athlete’s physical abilities as well. Proper hydration can increase their energy levels, improve their muscle function, endurance, and agility, and promote mental focus – all things that are known to positively affect an athlete’s game-day performance.
Nutrition plays a vital role in your child’s development, and can impact their athletic performance as well. Young athletes need diets that keep the body energized, support bone health, and repair muscle tissue. Calcium-rich foods like yogurt, cheese, and leafy vegetables like broccoli will promote long-term bone health. Proteins from lean meats, fish or dairy products are essential for muscle growth and repair. Carbohydrates, preferably from whole-grain options like pasta or rice, are also crucial, as they increase and maintain the body’s energy levels. Young athletes need a variety of these foods, as well as the other essential vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables, in order to stay healthy and keep playing at their best.
Some common sports injuries like sprains or muscle aches can be avoided with proper exercise form and regular physical conditioning. Parents and coaches should work with young athletes to make sure that they aren’t straining their muscles or overexerting themselves during physical activities, especially if their actions are repetitive. Encouraging young athletes to incorporate moderate cardio, core, and flexibility exercises into their routines is also a great way to help them prevent muscle injury while building strength.
In addition to making sure your child is getting a good night’s sleep, it is important to ensure that they are getting adequate downtime during the day as well. Taking breaks during long practices, after strenuous workouts, and in between games will allow the body to replenish its energy and repair any muscle damage or wear.
Keeping child athletes healthy starts with scheduling their pre-season sports physicals and their annual wellness checkups. Our pediatric specialists at South Shore Health are here to keep your young athletes strong and healthy no matter the season, and are an invaluable resource for parents as well. Visit the South Shore Health website to find a physician or to learn more about pediatric care.