If you’re thinking your children practice sports with a different intensity than you ever did as a kid, you’re not alone. Young athletes are playing longer and harder today. Plus, the pressure to win puts emotional stress on kids. Many parents push winning rather than focusing on effort, sportsmanship and hard work, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Keeping kids’ bodies and brains safe
All sports have a physical risk of injury, but the more contact in a sport, the greater the risk. Most injuries occur to ligaments, tendons and muscles. We asked Keith J. Loud, M.D., FAAP, a sports pediatrician at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine & Fitness, to shed some light on safety in sports.
What important message do you think needs to reach parents about kids and sports injuries?
Dr. Loud: Parents should know that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Roughly 25 to 30 years ago, most sports injuries were related to falling off equipment. Today, we treat kids for overuse injuries and at a much higher degree than when kids largely played pickup sports.
With the rise in organized sports, kids are pushed to participate at a higher intensity for longer periods of time, throughout the year. We’re seeing specialization with kids participating in a single sport for three and, sometimes, four seasons a year, not allowing body parts to rest and recuperate. Kids should participate in two to three different sports over the course of a year.
Are kids always protected with a helmet?
Dr. Loud: Helmets save lives, and children should always wear them, but they can’t protect you from all injuries. If a kid is playing ice hockey or football unsafely, for example, no helmet can always protect from concussions. The brain can still sustain trauma from the inside of its own protective skeleton. Helmets can give a false sense of security. The one sport too rough even with a helmet is boxing.
How common are sports injuries when kids are wearing protective gear?
Dr. Loud: Despite protective gear, injuries are common. Most injuries are due to repetitive strain on body tissues such as running, jumping, throwing, swimming or landing. Good protective gear can cut down on the number of bruises and fractures. Protective eyewear is essential to save vision, and mouth guards save teeth.
Preventing injuries involves playing on well-maintained surfaces, kids playing fair, coaches teaching proper techniques and officials strictly enforcing the playing rules.
Do you think parents are too relaxed about kids playing sports?
Dr. Loud: Parents aren’t too relaxed about anything when it comes to kids playing sports. Rather, parents may be overly anxious with respect to high performance and achievement in sports. This may drive the over-specialization and over-intensity in sports that lead to overuse injuries.
American Academy of Pediatrics sports injury prevention tips
- Take one day off a week so the body can recover.
- Wear the right gear, such as pads, mouthpieces, eyewear, face guards and protective cups.
- Strengthen muscles before games and during practices.
- Stretch before and after games.
- Use the proper technique taught during the playing season.
- Take breaks during practices and games.
- Stop if there is pain.
- Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after playing.
- Play safe — make sure strict rules are enforced against headfirst sliding (baseball and softball), spearing (football) and body checking (ice hockey).
Do your kids “specialize” in a sport? How do you keep your athletes injury-free? Please share your thoughts and stories in comments below.