Debunking The Myth That Youth Sports Injuries Aren't Preventable

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Parenting tips for ensuring kids' safety in school athletics.

Not only does April mark the beginning of the spring sports season for millions of kids around the country, but it is also Youth Sports Safety month. Many parents probably think that there is little they can do to prevent their kids from becoming one of the 3.5 million children ages fourteen and younger receiving medical treatment for sports-related injuries each year. But they're wrong.

In her new book, Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports, Brooke de Lench, Editor-in-Chief of Moms Team (http://www.momsteam.com), debunks the myth that injuries are an inevitable part of youth sports. But not only does she give parents loads of practical tips on how they can help their child get through a sports season injury free - from identifying potentially life-threatening heart conditions during a pre-participation evaluation, to how to avoid overuse injuries (which account for half of all youth sports injuries), to proper hydration, to when it is safe to return to play after a concussion -she offers ways everyone involved in youth sports - from parents to coaches to administrators - can keep all youth athletes safe and injury-free.

Not only is it a guide parents can use to make their child's sports experience safer and more enjoyable, but the book looks at today's out-of-control youth sports culture in such a new and different way that, if enough parents read it, it may just be a clarion call signaling the beginning of a grass-roots movement to take youth sports from the adults and give it back to our kids.

In the meantime, here is a safety checklist for parents to follow:

  • Be pro-active about safety issues; learn about the risks posed by the sport your child plays
  • Protect your child against physical, emotional or sexual abuse at the hands of coaches, other adults or teammates by: modeling appropriate sideline behavior and attitudes, making sure your child gets enough rest, is adequately hydrated before, during and after sports, and does not play with or return too soon from an injury (especially a concussion), and by seeing that background checks are run on everyone over the age of 17 working with or in the vicinity of your child.
  • Schedule your child for regular preparticipation evaluations to identify congenital heart problems, neurological abnormalities from multiple concussions, and signs of the female athlete triad (disordered eating, menstrual irregularity, osteoporosis)
  • Require that your child engage in a sport-specific pre-season conditioning program (especially important for girls, who are prone to non-contract knee injuries)
  • Teach your child the importance of stretching, warm-ups, and cool-downs in injury prevention (especially important for kids during the growth spurt between the ages of ten and thirteen to fourteen when their bones are growing faster than their muscles). (The American College of Sports Medicine says flexibility exercises should be mandatory for young athletes).
  • Insist that coaches receive training in first-aid and injury prevention
  • Make sure a properly stocked, sport-specific first-aid kit is at all games and practices
  • Demand that your child's sports program implement an emergency medical plan and risk management program
  • Increase the odds of survival in the event an athlete, spectator, coach or official suffers sudden cardiac arrest by working in your community to strengthen the cardiac chain of survival, including making sure that automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) and certified operators are present at games and practices
  • Set participation limits for your child to avoid overuse injuries, which account for nearly half of all injuries children suffer each year playing sports
  • Demand that fields are safe (anchored and padded soccer goalposts, safety-release bases, proper lighting, no debris etc.)
  • Ask about the weather policy of your child's club; if it doesn't have one, adopt your own
  • Teach your child the dangers posed by performance enhancing drugs (i.e. steroids). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 850,000 high school students admitted to using anabolic steroids in 2003; from 1993 to 2006, steroid use among high school students rose from one in 45 to one in 16.
  • Take precautions against antibiotic-resistant staph infections for a child playing close-contact sports, such as wrestling and football by encouraging him to practice good hygiene (no sharing of towels or other personal items, showering or washing with antimicrobial soap after every practice or game), laundering uniforms, athletic supporters and sports bras separately after each use, and for wounds that appear infected, seeking immediate medical attention.

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MEG MCALLISTER
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