Children + sports = a winning combination. Regular exercise provided through sports can help children develop strong bones, control weight, decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, improve sleep, be academically motivated and build self-confidence.
Playing sports also can be fun, but it does have a downside. Approximately 2 million children under the age of 15 are treated in emergency departments annually for sports-related injuries. That’s why it’s so important for parents to take an active role in sports safety for their children.
Some of the most common sports-related injuries are sprains and strains. Children also can experience growth plate and repetitive motion injuries, as well as heat-related illnesses. Injuries can be either traumatic, such as a broken bone caused by a single application of force, or chronic, which result from repetitive training over a period of time. Injuries can occur for a number of reasons, including accidents, improper training or lack of appropriate gear.
Unstructured free play that helps toddlers and preschoolers develop important motor skills is best, such as tumbling, running, climbing, kicking, dancing, playing catch or riding a tricycle. Organized sports generally are not recommended for children under the age of 5. As their coordination and attention spans improve, children ages 6 to 7 can begin participating in organized sports, such as soccer, swimming, tennis, gymnastics, golf, martial arts or T-ball. Most sports are appropriate for children by age 8, including contact sports. Parents may want their children to try various sports before choosing one or two.
Some sports injuries are inevitable, but parents can take steps to minimize risk while encouraging their children to participate in regular physical activity.
· Children should have a physical examination before beginning an exercise program or training.
· Gradually increase the time and intensity of workouts to avoid overuse injuries.
· Choose activities appropriate for the child’s developmental level.
· Teach children how to follow the rules of the game.
· Provide the necessary gear that protects, fits properly and is appropriate for the sport.
· Make sure every exercise routine has a warm-up and cool-down period.
· Provide plenty of water or sports drink while playing to ensure proper hydration.
· Use sunscreen to reduce the risk of skin cancer that can occur later in life.
· Do not allow children to play when they are very tired or in pain.
If an injury does occur, seek professional medical treatment if necessary. Make sure the injury heals completely before playing again. Start playing slowly and protect the injured area with a brace or special equipment.
From neighborhood soccer teams to high school football teams, more than 30 million children participate in organized sports in the United States. Even more are involved in recreational activities, such as biking or hiking. Parents should help their children select sports that match their personalities and fitness levels so they will want to practice more and improve their abilities. This physical competence can, in turn, help build both confidence and self-esteem. For more information about childhood sports injuries, talk with your doctor or call 800-681-2733 for a free referral to a physician near you.