No sport is 100 percent safe. But there is much that parents, players and coaches can do to minimize young athletes’ risk of injury.
The frequency and the type of injury will vary according to the nature and the demand of the sport. Contact and collision sports such as basketball, ice hockey and soccer are associated with a greater risk of acute injuries such as sprains, strains, contusions, fractures and dislocations. Endurance sports may have lower injury rates, but may have a higher proportion of overuse injuries such as tendinitis, apophysitis and stress fractures. Following are some suggestions for minimizing injuries.
Be sure that your youngster is competing against players of comparable size and development.
Young athletes can be the same age yet vary considerably in height, weight and physical maturity. This can place the less developed child at a competitive disadvantage and jeopardize his safety, particularly when players of varying strength and size are competing in contact or collision sports. “Even at the high-school level,” observes Dr. Luckstead, “there are differences in size between a sophomore and a senior.”
Encourage young athletes to train for their sport rather than rely on the sport to whip them into shape.
Proper physical conditioning can go a long way toward keeping a player off the disabled list and on top of his game. Ask your teen’s coach to help design a suitable exercise regimen.
Don’t abuse or overuse arms and legs.
In recent years, an epidemic of recurrent elbow pain from overuse led Little League Baseball, Inc., to limit pitchers under the age of thirteen to six innings per week; thirteen-to-sixteen-year-olds are allowed to pitch a maximum of nine innings. The organization also instituted mandatory rest between mound appearances. Since then, the incidence of recurrent elbow pain has decreased dramatically.
Runners can prevent overuse injuries by running on soft, flat terrain, and alternating days of strenuous running with less demanding workouts. They should gradually build up to their training goal. It has been suggested that increases of more than 20 percent per week should be avoided. For example, if the total mileage for a week is twenty miles, the maximum mileage for the next week should be no more than twenty-four miles.
Stretching and warm-up before practice and competition potentially help improve performance and decrease injuries.
To gain flexibility, it may also be helpful to stretch after activity. Whether before or after a workout, the muscles should be warmed up before stretching.
Water breaks should be scheduled at least every twenty minutes to prevent dehydration.
Inadequate fluid replacement can decrease muscle strength and endurance and can increase the risk of heat-related injury. Plain water is usually adequate to replenish fluid losses, but athletes may be inclined to drink more if the fluid is flavored and contains glucose and electrolytes.
Use the right equipment the right way.
Teens often use “hand-me-down” equipment that may not be the correct size or fit for their particular use. A racket or club that is a poor fit can lead to undesirable compensations in technique, or the frustration of suboptimal performance. The same can be said for protective equipment such as helmets and pads. If the equipment is not properly fitted or maintained, the efficacy will be compromised. And be sure to replace athletic footwear when the soles of the shoe begin to show wear and tear.
When practicing or playing in hot weather, steps should be taken to avoid heat-induced illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
Exercising in dry, mildly warm weather generally poses no problem for teenagers unless there is high humidity. In high-temperature, high humidity conditions, young people take longer to adjust than adults do. Teenagers have less sweating capacity than adults and may generate more heat during activity. With the proper precautions, heat injury and dehydration are preventable in nearly all cases.
- At the start of a heat wave or a vigorous exercise program, workouts should be shorter and less taxing. Gradually, the duration and intensity can be increased over a period of ten to fourteen days.
- Practices and games can be held in the morning or the late afternoon, when the heat is less oppressive.
- Drink up! Teenagers should drink 10 to 15 ounces of cool water before exercise; and 8 to 10 ounces every twenty to thirty minutes while working up a sweat. Sports drinks become necessary only for prolonged activities (marathons). Neither fruit juices nor soft drinks rank among the beverages of champions; in fact, both can upset youngsters’ stomachs and interfere with the absorption of fluid.
- Boys and girls should be outfitted in a single layer of lightweight, absorbent clothing, in order to facilitate sweat evaporation and to expose as much skin as possible. Perspiration-soaked garments should be replaced by dry ones.