(StatePoint) For many kids, playing sports is an important part of growing up, and that's a good thing. Sports are a great way for children and adolescents to develop lifelong exercise habits, build relationships, and learn teamwork.
"Parents can play a vital role in ensuring young athletes train and condition properly," says Dr. James M. Perrin, 2014 president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). "From staying hydrated to wearing safety gear, kids may need periodic reminders."
Here are ways to help your child avoid common sports hazards:
Athletes will reduce their risk of injury by strengthening muscles to protect vulnerable ligaments. This is especially important in certain sports -- including soccer, football, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and lacrosse -- in which athletes are prone to injuring their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which provides stability to the knee.
Girls need to be especially careful, according to statistics. Adolescent girls are four to eight times more likely to suffer ACL injuries than boys, according to the AAP.
Neuromuscular training programs that strengthen hips, the core muscles and hamstrings can significantly reduce one's risk for injury. This training will help athletes improve their form and have a greater awareness of how to safely pivot, jump and land.
Water is the best way for kids to stay hydrated while playing or exercising. Sports and energy drinks are heavily marketed to children and adolescents, but in most cases kids don't need them -- and some of these products contain ingredients that could be harmful to children.
Sports drinks which contain carbohydrates and electrolytes, can be helpful for young athletes engaged in prolonged, vigorous exercise, but in most cases they're unnecessary. Plain water is usually best, as sports drinks contain extra calories and sugar. Energy drinks, which contain stimulants like caffeine, are not healthy for children or teens, according to the AAP.
Read the label to know exactly what you're giving your child. When in doubt, stick to water.
Protect Your Head
Because young athletes' brains are still developing, it's important to take head injuries seriously. Adolescent concussions can cause long-term brain injury. If your young athlete sustains a concussion, he or she should be evaluated by a physician and receive medical clearance before returning to play. While concussion symptoms usually resolve in seven to 10 days, some athletes may take weeks or months to recover, and some students may need accommodations at school during this recovery.
Don't Overdo It
The most common type of sports injury is from overuse. Ignoring pain can worsen the injury and cause long-term damage.
"The best way for parents to prevent overuse injuries is to pay attention to their child's training schedule," Perrin says.
Limit your child to a single sport or team per season, and the training schedule to no more than five days per week. Alternating sports can help avoid burnout.
More sports safety tips can be found at www.HealthyChildren.org.
While sports are an important part of childhood with critical health benefits, parents, coaches and athletes should work together to make sure children participate safely.