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Community Children's Health

Kids and sports

Mom holding child wearing safety helmetThe long wait is over. Proud new parents stand beside the crib admiring their new baby, dreaming of what he or she will become. For some, they envision their child as the next Olympic champion, NCAA draft pick or the greatest-of-the-great professional athlete.

In fact, a few of these babies do grow up to become our sports heroes. In reality, many children actively participate in youth athletic programs as they imitate their heroes.

As parents begin to plan for their child's involvement in sports, they may wish to consider these issues.

Choosing the right sport

Some children seem to be born athletes. Whatever event they try, they seem to excel. For these kids, parents may follow the child's lead and let them choose whatever sport they wish.

For a shy or quiet child, the parent may want to enroll the child in several activities. This will help the child meet other children and decide which sports he or she likes best.

Before signing up your child to play, find out if your child really wants to play! Some parents like to live vicariously through their children or relive their own athletic "glory days."

If your child truly wants to play, then consider if you and your family have the time to commit to a youth athletic program. Finally, decide if you can afford the equipment and other costs involved.

Most parents consider the physical safety of their child as a big factor when selecting a sport.

Other factors to consider might be whether your child would benefit more from an individual sport, like tennis or golf, or a team sport.

When choosing a team sport, find out how large the teams are and if everyone gets equal playing time.

Parents should find out about the philosophy of the organization they choose. Here are some issues to consider:

  • Is winning emphasized or having fun?
  • Is the organization prepared to deal with the "angry parent" syndrome?
  • What about a parent who "pushes" his child to excel?
  • Are team members, coaches and parents encouraged to "lose gracefully" and "win graciously?"
  • Do the coaches have children on the team?
  • Do they have experience with the sport and in dealing with children?
  • Are there requirements for the child to maintain good grades?

Children with ADD/ADHD may be gifted in athletics. Their performance in sports can be a critical factor in developing their self identity. Parents should be able to decide if their child should play based on school performance.

Parents should consider how the child's involvement may impact their family life, especially if there are siblings.

  • Can the family afford for all children in the family to play?
  • Will children be on different teams or at different locations?
  • Can one parent take all the kids to different games or will parents be separated by taking children to more than one game at more than one location?
  • Will family activities suffer because of a busy athletic schedule?

Experienced parents recommend keeping a balance between sports activities and other family events. Choose how many activities your child can play per season.

Alternate events for a year or two until your child can decide which sports he or she likes the best and which fit your time and budget. If parent or child shows signs of stress, it is time to regroup.

Preparing for competition

As your child's athletic career begins to unfold, it is important to help them prepare.

Nutrition

Balanced nutrition is best, but most kids have very specific and sometimes limited food likes and dislikes. Schedules are full and time for meals may be limited.

Calorie requirements for kids are based on their activities as follows:

  • child's weight in kg x 25 for sedentary children
  • child's weight in kg x 30 for moderately active children
  • child's weight in kg x 40 for active children
  • child's weight in kg x 45 for underweight children

Dietary supplements (other than multi-vitamins) for children are not recommended. Unlike adults, most active children benefit from some foods high in fat and carbohydrates for energy.

Parents should be leery of any sport or coach who emphasizes losing weight or maintaining a weight not normal for their child. These attitudes may lead to eating disorders and endanger your child's health.

Building athletic skills

Once a child has decided to play a certain sport, the parent may assist the child to develop athletic skills. Playing with your child not only helps them learn the skills, but also lets the children know that you care about them and the sport.

Many parents find that it is very satisfying to teach their child a sport that they have enjoyed as a kid. Some parents may also learn new sports skills from their children!

Be patient when teaching your child. Remember, they are learning new skills and that takes time and practice.

If it is not fun for either the parent or child, it is time to STOP.

Encourage your child as he or she learns during practice and games. Coaches who criticize or belittle children should be removed from coaching responsibilities. Words like "nice job," "good shot," "way to go" and "you'll get it next time" will help your child know that you are supporting him.

In addition to seasonable programs, skills may also be taught by community organizations, school and camps and may be less expensive than private lessons.

Play it safe

A safe playing environment should be provided for all children. Parents should investigate the play area early in the season. Know the location of emergency exits, fire alarms and the phone and know how to activate emergency services if needed.

More safety tips

  • Someone (coach, parent or official) should be certified in CPR.
  • Equipment should be checked routinely.
  • Children should have medical information and parent consent for treatment forms current and readily available.
  • Review strategies for "stranger-danger" with children on teams and younger siblings who may be present at games.
  • Meet and learn to know coaches and other parents on the team.
  • Be "involved" and present as much as possible for practices and games.
  • Don't "drop off" and "pick up."

Travel safely

Many youth athletic events are structured for "travel teams" where teams play in communities, cities or even states away from home. In addition to the safety information above, families who travel should practice safety on the road.

Travel safety tips

  • If overnight trips are involved, try to get motel rooms on the first or second floor.
  • Make a mental note of where your room is located in relation to exits, stairs, fire alarms and fire extinguishers.
  • Check smoke alarms in your room.
  • Know the phone number for emergency services, and always lock your doors.
  • Make sure children are supervised in motel swimming pools and play rooms.
  • When in the car, make sure passengers wear their seat belts and never let your number of passengers exceed the number of seatbelts.

Whatever your young athlete becomes, the times you spend watching and cheering his or her efforts will be times you look back on and celebrate. The medals and trophies he or she wins will mark his or her victories and when he or she steps to the camera and says, "Hi, Mom! Hi, Dad!" you will feel every bit the proud parent you deserve to be.

Easy first aid for young athletes

Almost three-quarters of a million children are treated in emergency rooms every year for sports-related injuries. Ninety-five percent of these injuries are minor cuts, abrasions, bruises and pulled muscles.

Here are some tips for dealing with youth athletic injuries.

The acronym RICE is used as a guide for strains, sprains, bumps and bruises:

  • Rest: Take the child out of the game.
  • Ice: Apply ice or cold compresses to the affected area.
  • Compression: Wrap the injured joint with elastic bandages if needed.
  • Elevation: Raise the injured hand, arm, leg or foot.

When a child is injured, try to determine how much pain he or she is having by using a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being "a lot of pain."

If the pain remains moderate to severe (5 to 10) after about 10 minutes, and if swelling is increasing, the joint looks abnormal (dislocated), the child cannot move the affected part in a normal "range of motion," or cannot bear weight on the injured foot or leg, call your doctor.

If severe bleeding or difficulty breathing is present, call emergency services.

For head and possible neck injuries, the child may experience numbness in the arms and legs and he or she may seem dazed or confused. Keep the child still and call for emergency services.

Make sure players wear protective mouth gear for contact sports.

About 50 percent of all children will have a fracture (broken bone) before adulthood. The most common fracture is of the fingers. Forearm, clavicle (collar bone), foot and elbow injuries are the next most common.

If you suspect a bone may be broken, keep the area still so that the bone, nerves, muscles and blood vessels will be protected. Splint the area with any rigid material. Plastic, wood or metal will do. Wrap the affected area from the fingers or toes toward the body and seek medical assistance.

Eye injuries can be very serious. Have the child close the eye and apply an eye patch. Seek medical assistance.

If a permanent tooth is accidentally knocked out, try to find the tooth quickly. Rinse the tooth in a cup or bowl of water. If possible, try to put the tooth back in the socket and have the child bite down on a gauze or moistened tea bag to hold it in place.

If you cannot replace the tooth in the socket, put it in a cup of milk or water to which you have added a half teaspoon of salt. Take the child to the dentist immediately.

Stocking the team first aid kit

Your team may want to invest in a special plastic box in which to carry safety and first aid equipment. Many first aid kits come already assembled. They should contain:

  • Band-Aids and gauze pads of different sizes
  • antibiotic ointment
  • antiseptic solution to clean injuries
  • adhesive tape

Eye patches, elastic wraps and cold packs should also be added to the first aid kit. Plastic finger splints or tongue blades may also be added since finger injures are common.

The team should bring a cooler of ice for injuries. (NOTE: Ice should be applied for only 20 minutes at a time and removed any time the area starts to burn.)

During hot weather, keep a cooler of cold water for team members to drink frequently. A cooler of cold wet towels is also a good way to cool off players and prevent overheating.

Make sure each player has a complete medical information sheet available at each game with the parents' consent for medical treatment to save time if a child is seriously injured.

If possible, designate a parent who has medial training and is certified in CPR to be present for practices and games.

If a child becomes injured, talk to him and reassure him that he will be take care of and that you will stay with him until his parent can be with him.

Remember that sports may be an important part of children's lives, but as children, most of their lives are ahead of them. Risking additional injury by playing too soon may prevent them from enjoying their sport as they continue to grow.

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