Safety has been a hot topic in youth sports for many years. But recent concerns about concussions in football and other contact sports has only heightened the debate on how to keep kids safe.
The issue is only exacerbated by the increasing athletic pressures on kids. According to the Taylor Haugen Foundation, a leading injury awareness group, many organized youth sports have become year-round, increasing the intensity level of school-age athletes in competition. Parents, leagues, schools, and other organizers need to re-evaluate their safety precautions, says Brian Haugen, the foundation’s co-founder.
“No parents want to prevent their kids from participating in sports, but it’s everyone’s individual responsibility — from the coaches and trainers to the parents and the players themselves — to make sure these young athletes are safe when they take the field,” Haugen said in a press release.
Injuries are inevitable for any athlete. But these eight tips should go a long way to creating safer youth sports programs.
- Make sure trained medical personnel are on hand. Haugen started the foundation with his wife, Kathy, after their only child died at age 15 following an abdominal injury suffered while playing for his Niceville, Florida, junior varsity high school football team. It’s crucial some type of medical professional or service is actually on the sideline for every game in every sport, he says. This can include a paramedic, licensed athletic trainer, or team doctor. If something either serious or minor happens, adults can act quickly.
- Review and update all protocols for injury prevention. Haugen recommends developing an action plan that deals with game-time response to everything from minor sprains to a significant trauma like a concussion or abdominal injury. Make sure everyone from coaches to EMS personnel are brought in on the plan, so everyone knows their role and can take action accordingly.
- Give your athletes proper rest. Because coaches and parents place emphasis on competing year-round, giving the body adequate rest is often overlooked. Many injuries happen due to unnecessary strain put on muscles, joints, tendons and other parts of the body, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics Sports Injury Prevention Tip Sheet. Athletes should have at least one day off per week, and at least one month per year from training in their sport to allow proper recovery.
- Make sure all players are wearing the right protective gear. Even the best equipment won’t prevent all injuries. But Haugen says it’s important to know what protective gear is mandatory and what’s optional for your sport. Check to make sure all helmets, eyewear, and other equipment fit properly, and are always worn during physical activity.
- Get the parents involved. Even if they’re not directly part of the team, it’s important parents know the proper procedures for dealing with injuries and keeping kids safe, Haugen says. Coaches, school principals and other personnel can address these issues and answer specific questions at parent meetings, booster club functions or other events. Parents need to be assured that safety precautions are in place and being taken seriously.
- Conduct proper warm-ups and conditioning. Most players and coaches know the value of warming up before physical activity. But it’s just as important to provide conditioning exercises during and after practice, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Such exercises during practice can strengthen muscles used in competition, while stretching after games and workouts increases flexibility, it’s also a great idea to implement a daily fitness plan.
- Practice correct techniques in your sport. Pulled muscles and ACL tears often occur when athletes fail to learn the right techniques for squatting, jumping or landing, says strength and conditioning coach Robert Camacho. In making these types of movements, players should avoid allowing their knees or ankles to collapse. Serious injuries can be reduced by getting your body in the habit of proper movement.
- Talk to your kids about safety. Parents and coaches shouldn’t be the only ones who are educated about sports safety. Kids need to understand how to protect themselves and the vulnerable areas of their body, Haugen explains. Because of recent rule changes regarding contact in sports like football, other parts of the body such as the torso are being targeted more for hits. Haugen advises coaches make sure their players know how to tackle — and be tackled — with minimal risk.
From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr
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