Parenting a child active in sports can be a challenge and a joy. Every parent wants to see their child stay healthy while enjoying the process – from making the team and attending practices to performing their best during competition. Here are a few quick tips to help you support your young athlete.
Model Positive, Healthy Behaviors
The most effective way to influence your child is to lead by example. Displaying good sportsmanship starts with you.
- Demonstrate a friendly and pleasant attitude
- Model good habits for healthy eating, adequate sleep and exercise
- Exhibit good behavior at sporting events. Refrain from yelling at referees, umpires, coaches or others from the opposing team
- Remind your child everyone makes mistakes and has bad days. Make character growth a priority
Encourage Your Child’s Uniqueness
Remind your child that everyone matures differently. Discourage your athlete from comparing themselves in areas such as height, speed and strength. Rather, encourage your child in the areas they perform well at and focus on the positive. Provide reassurance that with practice and continued focus, they will be able to stay competitive.
Help Them Stay Healthy
Healthy Eating, Hydration and Sleep
Good nutrition with a well-balanced diet and adequate hydration cannot be underestimated. Fueling the body helps during performance and after in their recovery. Make sure your child gets enough quality sleep to help keep them at peak performance and in good health.
Pay Attention to Health Concerns
Encourage your athlete to communicate with you, their coach or athletic trainer if something feels wrong – and listen to them when they do. Be sure to take their concerns seriously and don’t encourage them to “play through it.” Seek medical advice when there are concerns, persistent pain or simply for advice on how they might maximize performance and recovery.
Always notify coaches and medical staff of any conditions which might surface. These could include the need for an epi pen, inhalers for asthma or other medical conditions which might affect or limit participation. Every athlete should undergo a pre-participation physical exam (PPE) which can help identify potential issues.
Incorporate Safety Routines
A good warm-up and cool-down regimen can help a young athlete prepare and recover from competition. An appropriate warm-up period prior to exercise needs to get the heart rate elevated and muscles warmed up to prepare for activity. Stretching should be incorporated on a daily basis. It allows muscles to be more receptive to the demands during exercise by keeping them flexible (good joint range of motion), strong and healthy.
Be sure sport-specific safety gear fits and functions properly. Protection during play helps to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic injury. Equipment should be regularly inspected for fit and condition.
Be Aware of Potential Injuries
Common injuries of young athletes include muscle strains (hamstring/calf), ligament sprains (ankle), overuse injuries (shoulder), concussion, apophysitis ‘growing pains’ at the heel and knee, back pain and fractures. While it is hard to prevent any injury, the likelihood of these issues becoming problematic can be lessened if an athlete works to prepare their body for exercise and competition.
Keep Sports Activity Reasonable
Promoting healthy competition can make an activity much more enjoyable for a young athlete and help them understand the importance of good sportsmanship.
It is good for a child to participate in a variety of sports over time, but not necessarily all at once. Too often, we see young athletes being tailored into one specific sport early on, then play year-round. This potentially sets them up for various overuse injuries. These may be avoided if a child plays several different sports which require a variety of demands on the body. However, a child needs to be cautious playing multiple sports at one time. Their young body may not be prepared to handle this amount of stress if not allowing for appropriate recovery between events. In adolescents and young adults, we can see an overtraining phenomenon occurring, which leads to slower performance times and early fatigue.
At Nebraska Medicine, we care about the long-term health of your young athlete. We are here to help with any health concerns you may have at each step of their development.