Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spotlight on Safety: Youth Sports Safety

A blog post I wrote for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette's MassMoms Blog:

Ah, springtime!  The snow is almost gone!  The birds are singing.  The kids can finally play outside again!  Spring sports are underway.  As we emerge from our winter hibernation or transition from winter to spring activities and sports, we need to pause to take action to keep our kids safe both on and off the sport field or court.  

April is youth sports safety month.  According to Safe Kids, 3.5 million kids every year suffer injuries while playing an organized sport in the U.S.  Two out of three of sport related injuries treated in emergency rooms are for children.  That means one out of three are for adults, so parents who play organized sports or weekend warriors, you are not immune!  

While most of the injuries are minor sprains and strains, broken bones and heat related injuries like heat exhaustion and heat stroke also occur.  More serious injuries, like a traumatic brain injury, most commonly in the form of a concussion, related to sports or recreational injuries occur in two out of five children.  Repeated injuries, even minor ones, can have a serious impact not only in the now, but later in life.

Surprisingly, the majority of sports related injuries to children occur during practices, not games!  This is, in part, because parents and sometimes coaches, especially volunteer parent coaches, do not enforce the same safety rules and precautions for practices as they do for games.  Some are just plain unaware of the potential for injury. Injuries from a collision with another player happen more often in team sports, but the injuries to those who play individual sports are often more severe.  The four sports associated the most injuries to muscles and bones are roller sports, football, basketball and bicycling.  That does not mean that injuries don’t happen in other sports, they do!

Concussion awareness and prevention is an important part of sports safety.  A concussion is a traumatic brain injury.  Most concussions occur without the loss of consciousness and need to be taken very seriously.  I recently wrote a Spotlight on Safety piece about Traumatic Brain Injury, you may wish to refer to it as an adjunct to this one.  For kids 8-13, ice hockey and football resulted in the highest rates of concussion.  For kids 14 and older, according to Safe Kids, the top 5 sports for concussion related injuries are cycling, football, baseball and softball, basketball, and those using skateboards or scooters.  Along gender lines, football carries the greatest risk for males and basketball and softball for females.  Overall, females have a higher rate of concussion!  For a great resource on concussions and sports check out the CDC publication, Heads Up!  Share it with your child’s youth sports coaches and parents.

Overuse injuries are also common in kids, especially those who play highly competitive sports or ore than one sport in the same season.  Kids are still growing and their bodies need a chance to recover.  They need rest days and a balance of intense and lighter workouts or practices.  Repetitive strain and overuse injuries can be common, especially when proper conditioning and stretching are not taught or followed.  Warming up and cooling down are important tenets of injury prevention.  Being properly hydrated and fueled before and after practices and games is also important.  Of course, understanding the rules of the game and following them is also important.

There are simple things you can do to protect your kids and decrease the risk of injury from both recreational activities, like playing on the swing set in the yard or riding their bike, and from organized sports at any level.  

~ Be sure they always wear proper equipment and understand why this is important.  This includes appropriate footwear, helmets and any other protective gear required.  Be sure it fits properly.  Lead by example.  You should wear your helmet and protective gear, too!  Check it often and replace when necessary.  It won’t do it’s job if it’s ill-fitting or broken.  Be careful with hand-me-down sporting equipment and protective gear.

~ Be sure the equipment is in good repair.  Check it periodically.  Check their ride on toys and bicycles at the beginning of the season and periodically.  Inspect play structures and outdoor play equipment.  Sandbag soccer goals so they can’t tip over.  

~Ask the coaches what training they have received for prevention of sport related injury.  Have they undergone concussion training? Are they certified in CPR and First Aid?  They should be.  Do they have a first aid kit with them at all times?  Do you?  Do the coaches have contact information for you should your child sustain an injury and they have to contact you immediately?  Is there an AED on site and accessible for practices and games?  

~Observe the coaches.  Do they enforce use of protective equipment?  Do they rest players who are injured or fatigued even if the child wants to keep playing?  Do they remind kids to drink frequently and allow them a quick energy snack before, during or after practices and games if needed to keep their energy and blood sugar up and where it needs to be?  

~Be sure kids are taught how to warm up, stretch, and cool down.  Help them understand the importance of conditioning and pacing themselves.  Make sure they get at least one day off a week to rest when playing organized and competitive sports.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends two to three months off of a year round sport to prevent burnout and injuries.

Like so many things in life, awareness and prevention are the key.  We must remember that kids are kids!  They are not just small adults.  They are still growing, and thus, vulnerable to injury and at risk for injuries that can have a life-long impact.  They also lack the awareness and insight we have as adults to perceive unsafe situations and to understand why the cumbersome safety equipment is so important.  Many kids think they are invincible!  Keeping our kids safe and healthy is easier when we teach them proper care of themselves and how to be safe both in recreational and competitive play.  Good habits now, lead to good habits always. Injuries they sustain as a child can have significant and lasting impact on them later in life, sometimes in the form of a lifelong disability.  

Spring has sprung! Now lets all get outside and play!  Safely, of course!  

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