Most children take part in recreational and school sports for exercise and fun. But too many young athletes suffer needless injuries.
Each year, more than 3.5 million children suffer sports-related injuries severe enough to require emergency-room treatment. Sports are the second-most frequent cause of injury to teenagers, although, after puberty, boys are more likely to be hurt than girls of the same age.
Any physical activity involves some risks, but injury rates are highest in high-impact sports. Baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and softball account for almost 40 percent of all sports-related injuries in children ages 5 to 14. Injuries become more severe as youngsters get older and play at higher levels of competition.
Whether coaches are volunteers, teachers, or other paid professionals, parents should make sure that the coaches are able to handle their teams safely, say experts. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of volunteer coaches have any formal training in athlete safety or coaching skills.
Before your children sign up for a sports league, these are aspects about the program you need to know:
Certification and training. At minimum, coaches should be certified in first aid and CPR.
Emergency preparedness. A well-equipped first-aid kit, a checklist for what to do in emergencies, and a cell phone should be taken to practices and games. Leagues should also adopt policies regarding inclement weather, including canceling practices or moving them indoors when prudent.
Safety equipment. Coaches should require young athletes to wear appropriate safety gear, such as helmets, face and mouth guards, chest protectors, and athletic supporters. All gear and field equipment, such as goal posts and backboards, should meet national safety standards.
Preparation and conditioning. Coaches should lead team members through warm-up routines before games and practices and stretching routines and cool-downs afterward.
Match-ups. Young athletes should play with and against others of similar age, weight, and skill levels.
Coaching philosophy. A win-at-all-costs attitude can push children past their capabilities, resulting in injuries. Coaches should stress skill development and fun. No child should be forced to play when tired or in pain.
Field command. Horseplay and aggressive or rowdy behavior can result in injuries. Coaches should be required to stay in control.
Background checks. Before hiring any coach, league managers should do a background check to make sure the person has no criminal record.
Play your part
Even the best coach can't do it all. As a parent, you also play an important role in making sure your children's sports experience is a safe and happy one.
Consider these steps:
Offer to help. Your presence shows you care, and it can give a coach valuable help in maintaining control.
Play with your children. Help them stay fit by making physical activity part of everyday family life. Go biking, running, or walking together.
Value good sportsmanship. It's common sense—when children respect the game and one another, they're less likely to behave in ways that put them at needless risk. Parents need to instill the principles of good sportsmanship in themselves and their youngsters.