In youth sports, the idea of a single season has evolved into year-round action. Whether it's Pee Wee football overlapping with fall soccer or Little League running parallel to travel baseball or basketball season, kids are playing a number of sports and participating on several teams, often at the same time of year.
Related: Are Extracurricular Activities Really Enriching Our Kids' Lives?
Should parents worry about overscheduling their kids? Of course. But with a continued increase in youth sports injuries, mom and dad might also want to brush up on how to keep their kids safe.
"Sports participation is a double-edged sword," says James Gamble, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Stanford, Calif. "Too little has given rise to the fact that one-third of children are obese. Too much has given rise to acute and overuse injuries."
According to the National Athletic Trainers' Association, more than 8,000 children are treated each day in emergency rooms across the U.S. for sports-related injuries. Dr. Gamble notes that based on his practice and published research, overuse injuries are becoming extremely common in adolescent athletes. "You get stress fractures and injuries to tendons where ligaments attach to bones. It's an insidious onset and gradually gets worse until the parent notices a child is limping at practice or a game, and eventually it gets so bad the child can't perform," he says.
Parents play a crucial role in teaching their young athletes how to prevent sports injuries. By following a few simple tips, mom and dad can help their children balance a love for participating in sports activities while also being safe. In addition to having a regular medical exam to make sure a child is healthy, parents should teach their kids to follow these practical guidelines:
Always warm up.
Kids have a tendency to jump right in at a practice, but parents -- and coaches -- should teach them about the importance of warming up before a sport. "You can't just go out and start the activity," says Dr. Gamble. Kids need a very aggressive warm up that also includes general stretching.
Wear the right equipment for the sport.
If a child isn't wearing protective gear or the correct equipment, "he or she shouldn't be permitted to practice," Dr. Gamble tells Team Mom on Shine. Make sure the equipment fits your child properly. Parents should also encourage kids to wear mouth guards and eye protection. Young athletes need proper foot gear, too. "When kids wear improper foot gear, that can really make them a set up for strains and fractures," warns Dr. Gamble.
Remember the 5 out of 7 rest rule.
The problem with year-round sports is that young athletes don't have adequate time to recover from physical activity. "Kids will practice during the week, and then they'll have tournaments on the weekend. And during the tournaments they may play two games for two or three days, and then they'll go back to practice and P.E. at school. It's an absolute increase in the number of sports and games played and then it's year round, so there's no chance for kids to recover and condition," says Dr. Gamble. He recommends that parents follow the 5 out 7 rest rule: "It's good to have two days for the child to recover, where they're not doing P.E. or a pick-up game. It's a real time to rest. The growing body needs rest."
Watch for overuse injuries. Is your child pitching more than he or she should? (And than catching right after pitching several innings?) Does your gymnast seem hesitant to put pressure on a foot or wrist but doesn't want to leave the floor? It could be that the child has an injury and doesn't want to admit it. "That's where parents come into play, to come up with the balance," says Dr. Gamble. "A child will go and go and go."
Ease into sports after an injury. Kids think they're invincible, even after an injury. But the healing and rehab phases are critical, says Dr. Gamble. "What we see with recurrent injuries is that they'll rest for a bit then they go back to the same level of intensity [they were at before the injury]. They need to ease back into the sport."
Also on Shine:
Teach your child to love a sport
Breakfast of Champions: What to eat before the big game
10 ways to cheer on your kid without being annoying or embarrassing