The back to school season is in full flight, and that includes school sports. As your kids start dreaming of athletic stardom, parents are often concerned with ensuring their kids have both a happy and healthy experience. Below we suggest some things parents should keep in mind as their kids try out for the team.
Be prepared for some paperwork
Coaches, schools and sports leagues may ask parents to provide detailed medical information about new athletes. Gather your child’s health card number, as well as pertinent details about their medical history or medications they might have, as soon as possible, says Heather Tugnett, head athletic therapist at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ont. “When coaches ask for your child’s information, it’ll all be in one place.”
Don’t disregard pre-existing injuries
If your child was injured over the summer, or during a previous season, they may still be able to hit the field come September. But parents should monitor their children’s health closely and help coaches to do the same. If your child has a pre-existing injury or condition, contact coaches, members of the school’s administration or any other relevant parties and let them know what to look out for.
Find the right equipment
After a long summer break, kids’ bodies may not be completely prepared to take to the field, track or ice—and this increases their chances of being injured. One way to prevent injuries is purchasing the proper equipment, Tugnett says. Parents are often tasked with making sure kids have the protection they need. Tugnett advises that families purchase new equipment whenever possible, and be certain that the gear fits properly. If you’re unsure, ask store employees for help or contact online resources that offer tips for properly fitting equipment.
Don’t forget the basics
Warming up and cooling down are often overlooked by parents, but also by some coaches, Tugnett says. Still, these basic habits can help to prevent injury. Make sure your child is warming up before they get into drills. Kids should do a light jog and dynamic stretches—such as walking lunges and arm swings—to get their muscles prepared for the activity to come.
Following a workout, kids need static stretching, plenty of hydration and proper nutrition to refuel the stores depleted during play. Read more about proper stretching.
Understand the risks
Since children’s bodies are still developing, they are more prone to some injuries than their adult counterparts. “Kids’ heads are much larger in comparison to their bodies than adults’ heads are,” Tugnett says. This, combined with the underdeveloped musculature in their neck, she explains, leaves them more vulnerable to head and neck injuries. As such, it is a good idea for parents to familiarize themselves with the many signs and symptoms of a concussion. Symptoms can include but are not limited to: headaches, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, fatigue, changes in cognition, amnesia around the injury event, ringing in the ears and coordination or balance issues. Read more about concussions.
Similarly, kids’ bones are still growing—and are therefore vulnerable. “A lot of the growth plates in their bones haven’t completely fused yet,” Tugnett adds. “So we see fractures at the growth plate sites that we won't necessarily see in adults.” That said, the risk is still relatively low and most feel the benefit of playing sports far outweighs the risk of injury.
Know how to treat new injuries
Mild injuries can be addressed at home with things like rest, ice and stretching, and should start to improve within a few days. If your child continues to feel discomfort for longer, or if their injury begins to interfere with daily activities—such as walking—it may be time to consult an athletic therapist or other medical professional.
Offer emotional support
If your child gets injured, remind them that their recovery is more important than quickly resuming play—and make sure that you’re not pressuring them to return to the field too quickly. “Parents should be a safe place where kids can voice that they’re not ready,” Tugnett says.
If you sense a coach is pushing your child to return to play too soon, you may need to step in as an advocate. “Put your foot down and let them know your kid isn’t prepared.”
R.Kin, CAT(C), MSc
Heather is the Head Athletic Therapist at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ontario. As a Certified Athletic Therapist and Registered Kinesiologist, Heather enjoys providing field and clinical care to students as well as mentoring athletic therapy students as they prepare for certification. In 2015, Heather served as Lead Medical Practitioner for the Pan Am Games.