I count myself lucky that neither my kids nor I have sustained any major sports injuries so far. I still vividly remember calling a time-out during a soccer game I played in at age eight after getting stung by a bee, and I was hit by more than my fair share of pitches in my days of baseball ignominy. Aside from a few scrapes and sprains, I emerged from childhood sports physically intact.
An estimated 30 million American kids play some form of organized sports, and even more are active with recreational activities like bike riding and skateboarding. What’s even more remarkable is the number of childhood injuries related to such activity – 3.5 million annually, including nearly 800,000 that warrant a trip to the emergency room.
Physical activity obviously has a range of benefits for children, and team sports help many children develop social skills that will extend into adulthood. But injuries are so prevalent for active kids – especially in the summer months, when they have more time and more freedom – that a few simple “Summer Sport Safety” tips are in order:
Suit up: Anyone riding a bike or skateboarding should wear a helmet to protect against head injuries, and skateboarders (as well as novice bikers) should consider additional equipment like gloves, elbow pads, and knee pads to protect against commonly-injured parts of the body. Anyone in a boat should be wearing a life jacket. As soccer players in youth leagues know, you have to be wearing shin guards in order to play, and goalies should have a reliable pair of gloves and appropriate gear to safeguard against injuries that can happen while diving.
Make sure it fits: If a bike helmet doesn’t fit properly, it’s less likely to project its wearer from head injuries. Improperly fitting shoes, pads and uniforms can lead to a whole range of injuries as well as affect performance. Though it’s tempting to use hand-me-downs or to try to extend the mileage on last year’s equipment for growing kids, sports equipment is one place you shouldn’t skimp.
Know your child’s level: Though coaches generally come to know the skill level of their players, it’s up to parents to determine if their children are up to the competition they’re facing. And this doesn’t just apply to organized sports – if the deep end of a pool is too deep for a child still learning to swim, or a bicycle route has too many hills or too much traffic for a child’s skill level on a bike, it’s up to parents to set limits and help children develop their ability safely.
Remember that it’s summer: Hydration and sun protection will keep your kids happier, healthier, and able to play for longer. Children are less able to adjust to temperature increases than adults, so don’t use your reaction to how hot it is to gauge your child’s. Make sure your children drink water before and during outdoor activity, use a waterproof and sun-proof child’s sunscreen (the higher the SPF, the better), and monitor your children for signs of heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke or cramps. Make sure that coaches are giving children mandatory water breaks during practices and games to ensure they’re getting the hydration they need.
If your child has asthma, be especially cautious when it’s hot out, as extreme temperatures (especially during the hottest part of the day) can trigger asthma attacks.
Watch your head: Concussions are more common for children than you might expect, but children (especially young ones) won’t necessarily be able to convey that they’ve suffered more than a bump on the head. Make sure that you know the common signs of a concussion:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Memory troubles
- Sleep disturbances
And be sure to take your child to a doctor within a day or two of a head injury if it’s more than just a bump on the head, even if your child doesn’t require immediate care.
Summer’s a great time to be a kid, and being active is one of the best ways to make sure that the summer stays a great time. But make sure, whether you’re a parent, a coach, or anyone else in charge of active children this summer, that you factor safety into fun. Just a few simple, easy-to-follow tips will help keep the kids in your life from joining the far-too-many kids who do get hurt.