Make sure your kids are ready to roll.
Not so long ago, most children learned the rules of the game and how to play for fun through free, unstructured outdoor play. It was not until the latter part of the 20th century that adults became overly involved in “organized play.”
Today’s organized sports present pros and cons. Pros include that the sports require adult supervision, supervised coaching, the enforcement of safety rules and the proper safety equipment.
The cons? Sometimes kids are pressured to perform above their capability, development and readiness for team participation. Children may be coaxed into a sport that does not suit their interest, cognitive ability or physical development. Thus, their reluctance or dislike of a sport that they are made to participate in has the potential to harm them physically or emotionally, as well as to impact their self-esteem.
Coaches need to be knowledgeable about child development and basic motor skills at specific ages, and they must know how to help kids develop a positive attitude toward team participation without demeaning their self-esteem and self-worth in the process.
When your kids express an interest in participating in a particular sport, you should be encouraging and supportive. Reviewing the rules and regulations of the sport, having the necessary gear and safety equipment — along with talking with the coach — will enable your children to enjoy the sport and participate fully.
It’s important to remember that organized sports should not replace free play and other child-organized games. Rather, they should complement your child’s physical activity. Research has shown that kids should play a variety of sports — not one particular sport year round — because of the negative effects of overusing specific muscles and the increased risk of injury.
Your child may be required to take a physical exam before participating in a sport. Community sports programs have requirements and forms to complete. A school that is a member of Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) requires specific dates for the physical exam and the use of a specific form (CIPPE). This form has several sections for parents, students and health care providers. Section 5 of the form, the child’s health history, must be completed before a health care provider can complete the physical exam and certification to play (section 6 of the form).
Preventing sports injuries requires appropriate, properly fitting safety equipment that offers the best protection for each activity. This equipment should be certified and approved by a reputable sports manufacturer, and sized by a professional such as a manufacturer’s representative or a certified sports trainer. It must be in good condition, with no broken or missing buckles, and no compressed or worn padding on shoulder pads, chest protectors or shin protectors. The equipment should be comfortable. Mouth guards are necessary for all sports. No jewelry should be worn. Coaches should be knowledgeable about equipment requirements, and should be certified in first aid.
You should review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Web site on safety and sport injury prevention before your child participates in any sport: http://www.cdc.gov/safechild/Sports_Injuries/#reality.
All schools and community sports programs should have a concussion policy and return-to-play guidelines. The CDC’s online program, entitled “Heads Up – Concussion in Youth Sports,” provides an overview of concussions with recommendations for treatment, follow-up and return to sports: http://www.cdc.gov/headsup/youthsports/training/index.html
As we continue to learn about the long-term problematic effects of concussions, it is crucial for kids, parents and coaches to recognize the signs and symptoms of concussions, and to take immediate, appropriate action to prevent further complications.
Everyone needs to take weather conditions into consideration during sports. Excessive heat requires kids to be well-hydrated and appropriately dressed. The current recommendation for hydration is water with a limited number of sports drinks. If temperatures reach unsafe highs, sporting events and practices should be cancelled. Excessive cold also requires recommendations. Games and practice need to be stopped in stormy weather, especially when there’s thunder and lightning, with children being brought to a safe indoor environment.
You should know where your child is playing, with whom, and if there is an adult close by. There should be an ongoing discussion about outdoor safety in your family.
You as a parent must enforce safety in play. Helmets are a must for some activities. Appropriate footwear is required for all outdoor activities. Sneakers offer the best foot protection. Sandals, flip-flops and bare feet may cause unnecessary harm and injury. The use of rubber clogs has led to toe, foot and ankle injuries. In addition, this type of footwear does not offer foot support or protection, can fit improperly, and may cause an unsteady, clumsy gait.
Safe, outdoor free play is essential for kids of all ages. Going out to play with friends in the neighborhood or participating in organized sports enhances a child’s sense of self and improves overall health.
I can hear my mother telling us to “go out and get the stink off.” We always had fun, and came home smelling like the sunshine!
Jo Ann Serota, DNP, CPNP, FAANP, co-owner of Ambler Pediatrics, has practiced primary care pediatrics for more than 25 years. She is a past-president of NAPNAP, and President of the NAPNAP Foundation.