As summer turns to fall, more than 7 million young people take to their school playing fields, dreaming of athletic glory. Without some advance planning and common-sense precautions, though, those dreams can quickly sour.
More than a million injuries related to high school sports occur each year, according to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA). Here are some tips for students, parents and school staff from NATA and other experts to help ensure that your young athlete stays on the path to glory.
Prepping for the Season
- Preseason medical exam: All student athletes should undergo an annual physical to ensure they’re fit to play, as well as alert the coaching staff to any potential medical concerns, such as asthma or diabetes. Parents should complete an authorization form providing contact information and permission for emergency medical care.
- Nutrition: For young athletes, a healthy diet offers plenty of complex carbohydrates, moderate amounts of protein, salt, sugars and sodium, and minimal amounts of fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Check with a nutritionist for more details.
Staying Safe on the Field
- Who’s in charge? Ask your school who will supervise health care on the playing field, and what their credentials are. To avoid conflicts of interest, medical decisions should be made by athletic trainers, either on staff or contracted through clinics, and by consulting physicians, rather than by coaches. For their part, coaches should be credentialed for their sport, where appropriate, and have CPR, defibrillator and first-aid training.
- Equipment: Helmets and pads should be properly fitted; gymnastic apparatus should be maintained in safe and working order. Locker rooms, gyms and showers must be kept clean and checked for germs regularly. All clothing and personal equipment should be laundered or disinfected daily.
- Loosen up: All athletes should warm up and stretch before beginning activities, then cool down and stretch when finished. And, they should take plenty of breaks in between. Coaches and trainers should facilitate and prioritize this. If not, athletes should make it a point to warm up and cool down on their own.
- Stay hydrated: This doesn’t have to mean pricey sports drinks. In most cases, water is just fine before, during and after a workout. Some basic guidelines for how much water to drink have been formulated, but the simplest advice is to trust your thirst.
Four Special Concerns
- Heat: Athletes should adapt to warm-weather activities over a week or two, slowly building up their stamina rather than training full force (and with full equipment) from the get-go.
- Concussion: Athletes and athletic staff must be well educated on concussion prevention and management. Athletes should speak up if they experience such symptoms as dizziness, loss of memory, light-headedness, fatigue or imbalance after a hit in the head. After suffering a concussion, no athlete should return to play or practice on that same day.
- Cardiac arrest: If a school has automated external defibrillators available, athletic staff should know where they are located and how to use them, and see to it that they are placed on sidelines during both practice and games.
- Sickle cell trait: Newborns are tested at birth for this inherited condition; those results should be shared during the preseason exam. Red blood cells can sickle during intense exertion, blocking blood vessels. Warning signs include fatigue or shortness of breath. Screening and simple precautions can help athletes with the trait continue in their chosen sport.
Here’s wishing your young athlete a great school year – both on and off the field. Go team!