Participating in sports is great for children both physically and psychologically. Sports can increase a child's physical coordination, fitness, and self-esteem. In addition, sports can teach children about teamwork and self-discipline.
However, because children's bodies are still growing and their coordination is still developing, children are more susceptible to sports injuries. Approximately 3.5 million children ages 14 and under are treated for sports-related injuries each year. Half of all of those injuries can be prevented with proper use of safety gear, changes to the playing environment, and the establishment of sports rules that help prevent injuries.
Most childhood sports injuries occur due to the following factors:
- lack of education and awareness about safety precautions and potential injury
- inappropriate or lack of equipment
- improperly conditioned children
The following are safety precautions recommended to prevent sports injuries in children:
- Children should wear appropriate safety gear and equipment.
- The playing environment should be safe.
- The sport should be properly practiced with children of similar size, skill level, and physical and emotional maturity.
- Children should be fit and mentally prepared.
- Children practicing a sport should be supervised by an adult who enforces the safety rules.
- Children should stay hydrated during and after sports.
Safety gear should be sport-specific and may include such items as goggles, mouthguards, shin-elbow-knee pads, and helmets. The safety gear worn by a child should fit properly. In addition, sports equipment (such as bats, baskets, and goals) should be in good working condition and any damage should be repaired or replaced. The playing area should be free from debris and water.
To make sure your child is physically fit to participate in a particular sport, your child's physician should conduct a "sports physical." These physicals can reveal your child's physical strengths and weaknesses and help determine which sports are appropriate. Most sports physicals for children include a health examination that measures height, weight, and vital signs, as well as check eyes, nose, ears, chest, and abdomen. In addition, your child's physician may perform an orthopaedic examination to check joints, bones, and muscles.
Starting a child in sports too young will not benefit the child physically. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children begin participating in team sports at age 6, when they better understand the concept of teamwork. However, no two children are alike, and some may not be ready physically or psychologically to take part in a team sport even at age 6. A parent should base his/her decision on whether to allow the child to take part in a particular sport based on the following:
- physical development
- emotional development
- child's interest in the sport
Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that late-developing teens avoid contact sports until their bodies have developmentally "caught up" to their peers' bodies.
As your child participates in sports, he/she will sweat. This sweat must be replaced with equal amounts of fluids, usually 1 to 1 1/2 liters per hour of intense sports activity. Your child should drink fluids before, during, and after each practice or game. To avoid stomach cramps from drinking large amounts of fluids at once, encourage your child to drink about one cup of water (or a type of sports drink) every 15 to 20 minutes. Drinks to avoid include those with carbonation and caffeine. The following are the most common symptoms of dehydration. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- extreme thirst
- dark-colored urine
- slight weight loss
If your child exhibits signs of dehydration, make sure he/she receives fluids immediately, as well as a snack. The symptoms of dehydration may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
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Last reviewed: 9/30/2009