Youth sports are a fantastic way to encourage your child to be active while giving them an opportunity to make friends. And, for high school athletes, sports are a great thing to add to their college applications. However, there are some special safety concerns when it comes to children playing sports.
Because they are still growing, their bodies are more vulnerable to injury. They may be playing with or against children who are technically the same age but much bigger and physically mature than they are, which can pose a risk. Here are nine tips to help you keep your child safe while they participate in youth sports:
Get the proper safety equipment.
Having the proper safety equipment, from football helmets to sports mouthguards, is absolutely crucial for protecting your child during youth sports. Find the best sports mouthguards at GuardLab! Make sure that the equipment is correctly sized: Too large and it won’t stay in place, too small and it will cause chafing. Evaluate the fit every couple of weeks to make sure your child hasn’t outgrown it. Regularly inspect the equipment for wear and tear and repair or replace it as needed.
Get a preseason physical.
Before your child begins a new season, they should get a preseason physical from their regular doctor. This will ensure that they are ready to play the sport and give you a baseline to compare to in case they get injured or sick during the season.
Many sports also require your child to get a preseason physical before they are allowed to play, so make sure to schedule this in advance so they don’t have to sit out the first few practices.
Warm-up and cool down.
This is something the coaches should already include as part of practices and games, but it’s good to talk with your child about the importance of warming up and cooling down and how it can help prevent injury.
You might want to practice some simple warm-up and cool-down exercises at home, and definitely make sure to do this if you do any independent practices with your child. That way, they will get in the habit of warming up and cooling down even if they’re throwing the ball around in the backyard.
Play a variety of sports.
One of the best things you can do to prevent overtraining is to encourage your child to play many different sports throughout the year. Focusing only on one sport can lead to overuse injuries and cause them to get burned out.
Don’t load them up with more than one sport per season though: Have them play one sport at a time to prevent exhaustion and keep their attention from being split.
Give them a nutritious diet.
Proper nutrition is important even for children who don’t play sports since it will help them grow healthy and strong, and it’s even more critical for children who do play sports. Focus on a diet full of lean proteins, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables, and keep an eye on their consumption of sugary snacks, fatty foods, and processed meals.
A little indulgence is fine, but their diet should consist mostly of healthy foods. Stock your cupboards with healthy snacks only and get them in the habit of enjoying homemade air-popped popcorn and smoothies as treats.
Drink enough water.
Proper hydration is absolutely essential for staying safe and keeping your child from getting overheated. Make sure to always send them to practice with plenty of fluids and encourage them to take small sips throughout the day, as big gulps can make them sick to their stomach.
Make sure they also have sports drinks on hand during practices and games to help them replenish any electrolytes lost through sweating.
Get to know the coaches.
Coaches have a huge impact on your child’s experience and safety during youth sports. Get to know your child’s coaches and their coaching style. For instance, do they make sure that all kids get equal playing time, or do they only put in the best players because they are focused on winning?
Are they rigorous about enforcing safety equipment or do they let kids get away with loose helmets and no pro mouthguards? If the coach doesn’t seem to be a good fit for your child, consider switching them to a different team or sport where they can have a better experience.
Encourage healthy competition.
Coaches aren’t the only ones who will push the kids too hard: Often, it’s the parents who are screaming from the sidelines and driving their kids onward.
Of course, you want to encourage your child to do their best, but it’s important you don’t make them feel like they are falling short or not doing enough. Focus on encouraging healthy competition and giving your child the emotional and physical support they need to flourish, not just win games.
Watch out for signs of injuries.
Your child might not know enough to understand the signs of an injury, especially an overuse injury that builds up over time. Talk with them frequently about how they are feeling and lookout for signs of an injury, such as favoring one side of their body or changing their form to compensate for a weakness.
If they seem to be injured, take them out of practice or the game and give them time to rest and recover. If the problem doesn’t resolve, take them to get checked out by a doctor — early detection and treatment will keep an injury from causing more damage. If your child has already been injured, talk to the doctor about what you can do to help prevent re-injury and keep them safe as they continue to play youth sports.
Follow these tips to help keep your child safe while they participate in youth sports. Remember to always check that they have their water bottle and custom mouthguard with them before heading to practice, and remind them that winning isn’t the most important thing — staying safe is.