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PREVENT

Five ways to prepare your athlete for youth sports

  • Static stretching does little to prevent injury. Dynamic stretching is more effective at reducing muscle stiffness.
  • For some young people, a sports physical is the only time they see a health care provider.

With school starting up again, fall sports are underway and young athletes are dreaming of championship glory. If your child or teen is kicking off a new sports season, you want them to have a safe and positive experience. Here are some tips to help your athlete make a great start, no matter what sport they play.

 

1. Prevent sport injuries

Nothing derails sports participation like injuries. Here are some ways to protect your child.

  • Embrace variety. Help your child to keep fit by exposing them to a variety of sports and activities throughout the year. Studies show that engaging in multiple activities helps athletes perform better at their chosen sport, strengthen different muscle groups and avoid burnout.
  • Get prepared. Encourage your athlete to attend your school's pre-season or off-season conditioning program, if one is offered. It's more fun than working out alone and helps forge bonds with teammates.
  • Connect with the experts. Introduce your teen to your school’s certified athletic trainer, if there is one on staff. He or she can guide your child on specific skills and exercises that will be helpful in getting ready for the season.
  • Stretch it out. Flexible bodies are resilient bodies. Teach your child to do dynamic stretching after a light warm up. The classic "static" stretching (that you probably did in youth sports) does little to prevent injury. Dynamic stretching, which uses momentum and active muscular effort, has been found to be more effective at reducing muscle stiffness.
  • Ease into it. Don't let your child jump into an intense, 100 percent effort workout right away. If they haven’t worked out for a while, or they’ve been away from their sport, start slowly. Once your child is up and running, set aside at least two days per week from a single sport and one day a week from all sports to allow their body to rest and rebuild. Staying fresh helps athletes continue to perform at their best.

 

2. Support sports nutrition and hydration

Food is fuel for any athlete. For young people, whose bodies are still growing and developing, good nutrition is particularly important. Here is a very simple breakdown of how nutrients work with the body:

  • Carbohydrates are the main fuel for muscles, brain and central nervous system. They are used by the whole body for energy, and they should make up 45-65 percent of calories for young people age 4-18.
  • Proteins are used to repair and rebuild cells and muscles, which are broken down during exercise. Proteins should make up 10-30 percent of calories.
  • Fats help us feel full and provide longer lasting energy. Aim for 25-35% of calories from fats.

Drinking water is just as important to overall health and sports performance. The amount of water your child needs will depend on their age, weight, the outside temperature and how intense their sport is. But a good rule of thumb is this: divide body weight in half, and then drink one ounce per pound throughout the day. So if your teen weighs 120 pounds, they should drink about 60 ounces of water in a day—more if they’re exercising heavily or if it’s hot outside.

 

3. Get a sports physical

Make sure your student is up to date with their pre-participation physical. This is where they are screened for injuries, heart conditions, asthma and other conditions. Sometimes it's the only time kids this age see a health care provider, so consider seeing a physician who can talk with your child about all aspects of being healthy. It's a good, safe, confidential environment for kids and teens to ask questions about emotions, drug use, sexuality and other topics.

 

4. Complete a concussion screening

Think about having your athlete complete a concussion screening test before the season starts. This simple test won't prevent a concussion, but it sets a baseline in case your athlete gets an injury. It will help your health care provider decide how severe the injury is, and whether your child is ready to return to play.

 

5. Support mental health (as well as physical health)

Today there’s a growing awareness that sports isn’t just about physical wellness—sports can be connected to kids’ mental health in many important ways.

  • Mental health benefits of sports. Because physical health has a big effect on mental wellbeing, sports can be a positive influence by encouraging healthy bodies, good nutrition, proper sleep and other habits that can be good for mental health. Plus, youth sports can help kids build strong relationships with others, which has been shown to have a positive influence on mental health as well. Check out many more emotional and psychological benefits of team sports.
  • Mental health challenges in sports. From Olympic champions Simone Biles and Michael Phelps to tennis superstar Naomi Osaka and NBA player Kevin Love, we have recently seen that mental health issues are much more common that we might have realized—and those issues can even affect people who are performing at the top of their game. Pressure from parents and coaches, relationship issues within teams, being in the spotlight—all of these can create anxiety for young athletes. In many cases, this can cause kids to stop enjoying their activities and lead to burnout in youth sports.  

As a parent, it’s important to talk openly about the mental health side of sports—and pay attention to your child’s moods and feelings as they participate.

While these tips can’t guarantee that your athlete will win a championship or earn a college scholarship, the steps above can help your child get ready to compete this fall and beyond. Best wishes for a fun, safe and successful sports season!

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