Wellness October 10th, 2016

5 Things Every Parent Should Do To Prevent Youth Sports Injuries

Ahh, Friday night lights. Yes, it’s that time of year again where leaves take on a vibrant golden hue and the evening air calls for hoodies and blankets. Those men in black and white striped shirts are once again piercing our eardrums with their coveted whistles.

The NFL now rules our Sundays and Monday night TV space. On Saturday afternoons, the NFL wannabes converge upon college stadiums across America. And Friday nights belong to the prep stars coming into their own as they sharpen their high school-level skills under the watchful eye of Division 1 scouts.

Yes, football season is here once again. Just mentioning it floods my mind with memories of my past long-term commitment to this sport as a “football mom.”

Seventeen years ago my son donned a football helmet for the first time, but it seems like only yesterday he was staring at me with anxious eyes in anticipation of me making good on my promise to let him play. He was only in the first grade for goodness sakes!

I can’t blame him for being such a sports enthusiast, as he most likely got it from me. I grew up sitting at my dad’s feet on Sunday afternoons watching the Pittsburgh Steelers, his hometown team. As a young adult, though, I rarely missed a Chicago Bears exhibition. Away games were spent at a nearby bar with friends, and, as a season ticket holder, home games became synonymous with tailgate parties in the Soldier Field parking lot. Boy were those some great yet unbearably cold memories!

But now, we’re talking little guys out on the field — my little guy. That caused the thrill of the game to take on a whole new meaning for my discerning eye. Now, it’s not just about who wins the game. It’s about winning without him getting hurt.

Since World War II, competitive sports leagues have been an integral part of the lives of school-age children — brought about for socialization purposes when schooling became mandatory. Over the years, it has proven to offer not only social benefits, but tremendous emotional and physical benefits as well. All those attributes are great, but as a mother I can tell you the main thing we’re thinking about before, during and after the game: how safe is my child out there?

Along with the seriousness of any physical injury, I knew my son would be crushed emotionally if he had to be sidelined game after game due to an injury. There was one instance when he was a freshman in high school and got a concussion. He was determined to stay on the field, but I’m so glad the coach forced him to the bench for the remainder of the game.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, more than 46.5 million children played team sports in 2011. About 1.35 million children ages 19 and under were seen in the emergency room for injuries related to 14 common sports activities, including football, cheerleading, soccer and basketball.

Parents and coaches alike can help reduce that number. There are a myriad of simple things they can do individually or together to help keep the children on the field playing the games they love. Here are a few:

1. Annual Physical

Be sure your child receives a pre-participation physical exam by a qualified medical professional. I’m sure all schools still require this; however, no parent should cut corners in trying to get their child past this prerequisite if a past medical history may disqualify him or her from playing.

2. Proper Hydration

Encourage children to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during and after play. Don’t discount practices, as well. When my son was on the junior high school football team, I personally protested the coaches giving players sugar-filled juice boxes and chips for the boys after practice. That’s when I stepped in and started bringing them healthier snacks myself.

3. Body Stretching

Proper stretching before practice and games can release muscle tension and help prevent sports-related injuries, such as muscle tears or sprains. Another thing I introduced to my son’s coaches was the opportunity for the players to take yoga. Yoga is great for keeping athletes adequately agile.

4. Explore Other Sports

Have your child take time off from one sport to prevent overuse injuries. It’s an opportunity to get stronger and develop skills learned in another sport. I can’t see the child agreeing to take time off from a sport because they will lose their positioning; however, many of them will add additional sports to their repertoire. Funny thing: my son ran track during his off-season from football. Here I was concerned with him getting hurt in football and the only time he was ever on crutches was after a hairline crack to his hip from running track!

5. Converse With Coaches

Talk with and hold your coaches accountable to knowing the signs and symptoms of a concussion and making their players sit out plays following hard hits. I’m so grateful my son’s coach forced him to sit out after his unfortunate hard hit as he was completing a reception.

In addition to the five tips above, I’m about to give you a secret strategy every after-school sports parent should do, and it’s what I did as a football mom for 12 years. Are you ready? It’s very simple. Support your child at every game. Enjoy the game whether your child gets to play or not, and finally, never take a position of fear or remain in constant worry about the possibility of injuries. That makes for a stellar year — winning season or not.

When my son headed off to college and decided not to continue playing sports, I must admit a flood of mixed emotions welled up in me. I was a little sad that, as my favorite sport to watch, I would no longer be in the bleachers of some stadium with my son sneaking a quick glance from the sideline to the bleachers to ensure I was there cheering him on. At the same time, I felt a wave of relief that the threat of a possible sports injury was finally laid to rest.