Protecting Youth Athletes from Injury
Recreational activity is an important part of life. These days our youth athletes are learning to play at a much higher intensity due to improvements in coaching and access to training. As a result of this increase in intensity, Dr. Benjamin Thomasson shares a few tips on how to protect your youth during physical activity.
Proper Pre-Game Training
Playing in a game can be thrilling! It is usually the athlete’s favorite part of being on a team. Performance without proper strength training, skill training and endurance; however, can lead to serious injury. Encourage your youth to attend practice and reinforce that it is just as important as participating in the game. When your young athlete has good hip strength, back strength and coordination they are much less likely to sustain hip, knee or ankle injuries.
Skill training should be reinforced with a home program to establish the understanding of basic plays and sport specific moves. This will allow them to anticipate other competitors and avoid awkward falls that could result in fractures. Encouraging your youth to attend practice and establish time to practice at home will increase the likelihood of a safe and successful season.
Hydration and Heat Related Illness
We are seeing increasing rates of heat related illness. Annually, we hear of heat related deaths in young children and college athletes. In an effort to combat this rise in heat related illness there are a couple of things to remember. As a parent you should take an active role in determining when your child practices. It is true that practicing at a similar time as the performance or game will facilitate improved play; however, routine practice should be avoided at the hottest part of the day. This sometimes means that practice should not be directly after school! Athletic Trainers at your child’s school may be helpful in evaluating the heat index and ensure it is safe to practice. If you do not have an athletic trainer do not be afraid to speak up so that your child is protected.
Hydration is important! Athletes need to maintain mineral balance during performance. This requires athletes to drink plenty of fluid during the day and not just during the game. It also requires athletes to replace minerals, called electrolytes, to avoid cramping and heat related illness. Encourage your athlete to drink plenty of water, and when appropriate, electrolyte drinks. They should avoid soda and energy drinks, especially when in season.
Be supportive of injury reporting. As a team physician, I want to help your youth return to play as soon as possible. But we also have a responsibility to protect your youth from further injury. Please encourage your child to seek expert advice from an athletic trainer or a team physician when pain is debilitating or is not improving. This may save them from further damage that could last a lifetime.
There has been an increase in early specialization in youth sports. It is increasingly competitive to receive a college scholarship and to play professional sports. As a result, young athletes are pushed in to playing one specific sport or one specific position. This trend does not increase the likelihood an athlete will receive a scholarship. In fact, it has been proven to increase the likelihood of injury and loss of interest in the sport. Fortunately, we are hearing stories of professional athletes like Tom Brady who indicated that he was encouraged to play a variety of sports when he was young which he attributes to his overall longevity and success. Encourage your youth to play several sports and several positions. It will make the game more enjoyable and decrease the risk of overuse-related injuries.
The Role of the Athletic Trainer in your Child's Care
The State of Florida is making a push to include Athletic Trainers in the athletic program of each high school. Athletic Trainers have a healthcare license from the Florida Department of Health. They are licensed to provide health care assessments and can provide care under the direction of a physician for the treatment and rehabilitation of sports related injuries. They are an important way the schools are working to protect your children. This month is National Athletic Training Month. Take time to get to know your child’s school Athletic Trainer. They are a great asset and will work with you to protect your youth from injury.