Participation in team sports and athletic activities has numerous benefits for young people. In addition to promoting physical fitness, sports can boost their self-esteem and help them develop discipline, form new friendships, and learn the value of collaboration and teamwork.
Injuries do happen, though, and it can be taxing on a dedicated sports participant. The Young Athlete Program at HSS seeks to raise awareness of good practices for injury prevention. When working with a teen who has come in for physical therapy, for example, we take a comprehensive approach, addressing all factors that affect the injury. Getting stronger overall leads to a quicker recovery and being in good condition can help prevent injuries if a teen does get hurt.
While certain injuries are more common in specific sports, good practices overall promote safety. The first step, and a requirement at most schools before the season begins, is a thorough physical exam and medical clearance to certify that a young athlete has no underlying health problems or injuries.
Here are 10 tips to help ensure safe play and prevent injury in team sports:
- Make sure the athlete is going into the season in good shape and prepared. They should progressively increase athletic activity prior to beginning the season and continue with a progressive increase as the sports season begins, rather than a sudden big change in activity.
- Players should warm up properly to prepare the body for the intensity of practices and games. Light jogging, agility drills and dynamic activities that emphasize flexibility such as high knee jogging, leg swings and inchworms, are the recipe for a proper warm up.
- Athletes need to stay hydrated. Water is adequate, but fluids with electrolytes may be needed if they exercise more than two hours a day.
- Ensure use of the right footwear and proper equipment for each sport. It should be the correct size and fit well.
- Players need to know that they should not “tough it out.” Anyone who feels dizzy, light-headed or short of breath needs to stop participation. Athletes should be encouraged to talk to their parents or coaches if they feel they’ve been injured or overworkedThis will help prevent overuse innuries, which can arise from spending too many hours playing sports
- Coaches and parents should stay on the lookout for signs of injury or exhaustion and, if noticed, should pull the athlete off to the side and determine if something is wrong. “When in doubt, sit them out” is a good rule of thumb to follow, particularly for concussions.
- Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a mild concussion. Signs of a concussion include headaches, light sensitivity, appearing confused and clumsiness. Symptoms may not be fully apparent immediately but can worsen slowly over time. Any player suspected of having a concussion needs to stop participation at that moment and then be evaluated by a doctor.
- Athletes should be educated on the rules of the game: make sure they understand their role and position to avoid being in harm’s way.
- Injuries should be promptly evaluated and treated. A severe injury may not only end a young athlete’s career, but can cause ongoing pain and disability. Minor injuries should also be assessed so they can be managed quickly and do not progress to more severe injuries
- Parents should be vigilant to signs of burnout such as fatigue, poor academic performance and complaints of general muscle aches or joint problems.
You can’t underestimate the benefits of regular exercise and team sports for young people. Using these tips to prevent injury will keep them on the field safely.
Joseph T Molony Jr, PT, MS, SCS, CSCS is a board certified Physical Therapy Sports Clinical Specialist, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and Coordinator the Young Athlete Program at Hospital for Special Surgery. He is an internationally published leader in the field of Youth Sports Medicine.