With school officially back in session, this also means student-athletes playing fall sports—like soccer, football, cross country, field hockey, and cheerleading—have already started getting ready for their seasons. Ensuring a healthy season for student-athletes isn’t just the responsibility for the players, but also their parents, coaches, athletic trainers, and school administrators.
According to a National Council of Youth Sports survey, over 40 million young athletes ages 6-18 participate in organized youth sport activities. Recognizing this trend of participation, and to reduce the risk of injury, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) offers a number of suggestions to ensure a safe and healthy environment:
- Get a pre-participation exam/physical: All young athletes should receive an annual general medical exam and an orthopedic screening to determine their readiness to play and also uncover any medical conditions that may limit participation.
- Make sure the athlete is physically and mentally “in shape”: Parents and coaches should determine whether their children are physically and psychologically conditioned for the sport level they are playing.
- Make sure they are playing with the right protective equipment: To prevent serious risk of injury, parents, coaches, and physical trainers should always make sure children are playing sports with the proper equipment.
- Keep locker rooms, equipment, and clothing clean: Skin diseases like MRSA and ringworm can be easily spread by not properly cleaning and sterilizing clothes and equipment. If an athlete notices a skin issue, they should report it to the athletic trainer immediately for evaluation.
- Play head-smart, not head-strong: Athletes and parents should be well educated on the risks and warning signs of concussion. If you suspect a concussion, seek medical assistance immediately. And, when in doubt, sit it out—one game or play isn’t worth a lifetime of concussion-related health issues.
- Eat and drink to win: This includes a balanced and healthy diet. Without proper nutrition and hydration, young athletes will feel sluggish, which can increase their chance of injury.
- Be educated about heat-related illnesses: Athletes should be knowledgeable about warning signs and effects of heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Providing sufficient fluids during practices and games, as well as allowing rest for players, is vital for preventing illness and injuries. Any athlete experiencing symptoms should be encouraged to report them to the coach and athletic trainer immediately. Be sure athletes start practice fully hydrated with water or a sports drink.
- Find out who’s taking care of the team: In the case of injury, make sure there is proper on-field care. Many schools and sports teams rely on athletic trainers or parents with medical and first aid training and sports safety certification to keep kids safe. Yet less than half of high schools have access to athletic trainers.
- Play with heart, but make sure to protect it: Sudden cardiac arrest is a life-threatening and escalating health issue that can occur during school sports. All schools should be encouraged to have access to an on-site defibrillator.
- Establish an emergency action plan: Every team should have a written emergency action plan, reviewed by the athletic trainer or local Emergency Medical Service. Individual assignments and emergency equipment and supplies need to be included in the emergency action plan. If an athletic trainer is not employed by the school or sport league, qualified individuals need to be present to render care. Knowing that a school has prepared for emergency will give parents peace of mind.
If you’re a Health Advocate member with access to the Wellness Coaching program, reach out to your Wellness Coach for more tips about sport safety, heat stroke, hydration and more!
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