By Stephanie McCain
Participating in sports is one of the ways that children can benefit emotionally, socially and physically; however, injuries do occur and often times they are preventable. Parents and coaches can often prevent many of these injuries by simply following a few safety tips.
Before participating in sports, your child needs to have a wellness exam or sports physical performed by a physician or nurse practitioner. Even if the sport your child is participating is doesn’t require a physical, it is important to ensure your child is physically capable of participating in the desired sport.
Also ensure coaches/staff are aware of any important medical information such as asthma, allergies or other medical conditions that require special consideration. Ensure the coaches/staff are also aware of an emergency contact at all times.
Before participating in a sports activity, it is important that a warm-up and stretch session be planned before the game. Simple stretching before a practice or game can help the players release muscle tension and stress but also greatly reduces the amount of sports-related injuries that can occur.
Hydration, particularly in the Mississippi heat, is of greatest importance. Oftentimes children will not realize the importance of ensuring they are drinking enough fluids to stay hydrated. Make sure as a coach you are aware of the signs and symptoms of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Take precautions to prevent these heat-related illnesses from occurring. Ensure all players have water and other fluids, such as Gatorade or Powerade, available to them before, during and after all practices and games. Ensure that scheduled water breaks are included in practices and in games, and do not rely on the players to tell you when they need something to drink.
Depending on the sport being played, various types of equipment may be necessary to prevent or decrease the risk of injury. All sports-related equipment needs to be checked by the coaches and/or parents to ensure that the fit of the equipment is appropriate for the child. Remember that it is much simpler to prevent an injury than to recover from one.
Equipment often includes helmets, shin guards, mouth guards, cleats and face masks. One of the most preventable injuries in baseball and softball is facial, eye or head injury by using a facemask, even when the child is out in the field playing.
Another necessary piece of equipment that is often overlooked is sunscreen. Remember, it does not have to be extremely hot temperatures for your child to become sunburned while outside. Sunscreen needs to be applied anytime the child is outdoors and reapplied often.
Concussions are often considered more of a concern in football; however, a child could sustain a concussion during any sport if they obtain a blow or trauma to the head.
As coaches, ensure you are aware of the signs and symptoms of a concussion and if a child has possibly obtained a concussion, they should not be allowed to play until further evaluation and clearance by a physician or nurse practitioner has been obtained. The best rule of thumb related to concussions to remember in sports is “When In Doubt, Sit Them Out.”
Another consideration during practice and games to limit or prevent injuries is to make rest mandatory, especially in the extreme temperatures of Mississippi. All players should be required to have rest break regardless if the child requests a break or not. Also ensure that the players are encouraged to notify a coach, parent or another adult if they develop any injury, pain or illness during a practice or a game so that they can be properly evaluated.
Oftentimes children will not tell anyone they are developing symptoms of an illness or injury because they believe they will not be allowed to play anymore or may lose their position in the game. Another good rule of thumb is to ensure that all players have two days off every week from playing or practicing for their body to recuperate.
As coaches, it is often considered your responsibility to ensure that the players are safe and injuries are prevented if possible. Make sure that safety guidelines are created and that the players as well as parents are aware of these guidelines.
Some examples of safety guidelines are creating hydrating breaks, encouraging or requiring players to sit out if injuries or illness occurs, ensure players are required to rest if they are not feeling well, and make sure time is scheduled for a warm-up and stretching to be performed before games or practice. Also a great consideration is for coaches to be certified or at least receive training in CPR and first aid.
Another important consideration with sports safety is to consider the emotional stress that the players may feel during sports. Oftentimes, emotional stress on the players is overlooked and more often caused by the coach or the parents.
Many times, coaches and/or parents consider winning as the most important overall aspect of the game being played. Although players should be encouraged to perform to the best of their ability, the overall goal of sports should be to instill sportsmanship and hard work in the players.