As parents, we often dream of sports glory for our children: A spot on a major-league baseball team, a trip to the Olympics, starting forward at UK. For some, those dreams are within reach. But for many, maybe not so much.
That doesn’t mean kids and their parents should abandon sports. Far from it. Participating in sports pays dividends for children as they grow, become adults, and enter the world of work. Through sports, children learn to work together toward a common goal, how to win with grace, lose with dignity, and push through adversity.
“You want your child to succeed at sports, but not at the expense of their physical health, moral compass or self-esteem,” said Trevor Wilkes, M.D., of Lexington Clinic Orthopedics. “And we want kids to learn about the importance of keeping their commitments, even if it means sticking out the season on the bench.”
But parents must always be mindful of the risks involved in playing sports and things they must do to minimize those risks.
Safety equipment: Participating in sports can be expensive. But safety equipment is no place to skimp. “There is so much variation in body size and structure in children, even kids who are the exact same age,” Wilkes said. “So, it’s important to ensure the safety equipment your child is using fits him or her well.” Children must be taught the proper use of the equipment, and the need to use it every time they play, even if it’s just a neighborhood game of ball.
Learn the sport: Learning how to perform the sport correctly can reduce the risk of injury. Pitchers should be taught how to pitch to reduce the stress on growing bones, tendons and joints. Runners need to learn the proper mechanics to avoid shin splints. Swimmers should learn how to breathe, kick and place strokes in the water to avoid shoulder injuries.
Warm up: Proper warm up is critical. The risk of injury is much greater when stretches are skipped. Conversely, the activity should be discontinued when muscles become fatigued or painful. “So many injuries we see are the result of children being encouraged to play through the pain. As a result, kids are sidelined for days, or weeks, recovering from a repetitive strain injury that could have been easily avoided,” he said.
Hydration: Hydration is extremely important to all athletes, but especially those who play outdoor sports during the hot summer months. Kids often don’t realize they are dehydrated, until they become dizzy or overheated, so it’s important for parents and coaches to ensure that all players are staying well hydrated.
Concussion: It used to be that concussion wasn’t considered such a big deal. “We know better now,” Wilkes said. “Children should never be encouraged to play after a blow to the head, even if they did not lose consciousness.” Concussion can be quite serious, and it often takes the brain several days, or longer, to recover. Children who have their “bells rung” should be checked out by an athletic trainer, physician assistant or other health professional. A trip to the ER may be in order.
Orthopedic injuries: Every sport carries with it the risk of orthopedic injury, but some sports are more dangerous than others. Because of the sudden starts, stops and turns involved in soccer, football, and basketball, along with sometimes hard contact, these athletes are at risk for sprains, strains and broken bones. Stretching exercises can increase flexibility, while strength training can help build strong muscles and bones that can help reduce the risk.
Parents do well by their children to get them involved in sports. But they need to be careful to consider the child’s interests, physical attributes and abilities. “Kids should try different sports and find something they love and enjoy,” Wilkes said. “This lays the foundation for an active and healthy life, and that’s probably one of the most important things a child gets out of playing a sport.”
Even if it’s not the NBA.
Lexington Clinic has been serving the healthcare needs of Central Kentucky for nearly 100 years. With offices located throughout the area, a Lexington Clinic physician is never far away. Lexington Clinic Orthopedics – Sports Medicine offers a morning sports injury drop-in clinic Monday-Friday for patients that arrive by 7:30am. For more information about orthopedic and sports medicine services at Lexington Clinic, please call (859) 258-8575.