There are many opportunities for sports injuries with children. More and more kids are playing youth sports with some youth beginning as early as three years old! Athletic injuries range from sprains, strains, overuse, and overtraining to contusions, bone breaks, concussions, and other brain injuries. While some sports have a higher risk of injuries, each sport seems to have its share. Since April is National Youth Sports Safety Month, it’s a great time to cover some basic safety tips for coaching and participation in youth sports.
Below are a few things coaches (and parents) can do to reduce the risk of injuries to their young athletes:
- Coaches should be trained in CPR and First Aid prior to each season and keep these certifications up-to-date.
- Create a First Aid Kit which includes all the basics including several “quick ice” packs or purchase one from our website.
- Make a quick-sheet which includes all players’ names, emergency contact names and numbers, as well as pertinent medical information (allergies, medical conditions, etc.).
- Attend coaching clinics to learn methods of warming up, teaching skills, introducing strategy into gameplay, and how to avoid injuries by using a variety of drills and mini-games.
- Most sports now require children to have a medical exam prior to participation in any sport. This helps to rule out any medical conditions that may make it dangerous for them to be vigorously active. It also helps coaches by making them aware of conditions their athletes may have so they can be better prepared adapt practices to meet the special needs of these athletes. Click here to see a sample of a Pre-Participation Physical Exam (PPE).
- Check your First Aid Kit to be sure anything that was used since last practice has been replenished.
- Fill 1-2 baggies with ice for cold therapy when strains or sprains occur. Keep in a small cooler.
- Plan your warm-ups, drills, and gameplay to avoid injuries. Be sure to avoid focusing on one body part or drill too many days in a row, as overuse injuries are quite common in youth sports.
- Do a walk-around to check the field, court, etc. for safety hazards such as holes, cracks, or broken glass.
During Practices and Games/Meets/Matches/Etc.
As players arrive check for clothing and accessories, they should be:
- Dressed for play, with their clothing and shoes appropriate for the sport and weather.
- Wearing sunscreen. (if needed)
- Carrying a filled water bottle.
- Void of any jewelry.
- Wearing safety gear where appropriate. (helmet, pads, shin guards, goggles, etc.)
- Accompanied by an adult guardian. (when appropriate)
Be sure all players get a warm-up that begins slowly and increases with intensity (e.g. walk half of the perimeter, then jog, then side-slide, then run, changing locomotor skills at each corner of the field). Once blood flow has been increased to the major muscle groups used in the sport, have them go through the motions of activities within the sport from lower to higher intensity. For example, in soccer, passing to partners five paces away, then gradually increasing the distance.
Execute drills and games mindfully, such that:
- Players don’t overuse certain muscle groups.
- Rules are enforced.
- Safety is kept in mind. (e.g. teach how to handle a bat in soft/baseball, teach how to use your head in soccer when appropriate, teach safe tackling in football if appropriate, etc.)
- Contraindicated exercises are avoided.
- Supervision is thorough.
Allow for water and rest breaks when appropriate. When weather dictates, increase water breaks.
End practices and games with a good cool-down and closure including:
- Stretching muscles used in activity. Hold stretches for 30-45 seconds to increase range of motion which helps reduce injuries over time.
- Discussion of strategies and skill cues practiced.
- Focus on the positive and what they did well.
- Provide information on next practice including where, when, and what specifically they will be working on.
During games/meets/matches/etc. be sure to give players rest where appropriate. E.g. in soccer this gives the most highly-skilled players time to rest and recover and gives the lower-skilled players much needed game time.
Have any special foods/drinks/meds available for players with special needs (e.g. diabetics, those with allergies to bee stings, asthmatics, etc.).
Encourage your players to play other sports and activities! It may sound counter-intuitive, but by mixing it up, kids gain many benefits including:
- Fewer overuse injuries.
- Coaching by someone different than you.
- Strategies and skills from other sports that will generalize to the one you are coaching.
Attend coaching clinics to strengthen your coaching skills!
So, be prepared for your next coaching season. Your athletes my not avoid injuries entirely, but follow these guidelines and you will know you have done all you could to keep your players healthy and ready for action.