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School sports: How safe is your child?

It is often said that play is the work of children—but how prepared is your child or teen to participate in school sports? And, more important, how ready is your school to properly supervise your son or daughter in these competitive activities?

Approximately 20 million American children ages 6–16 play organized out-of-school sports, and about 25 million youths take part in competitive school sports, according to the National PTA. While sports can be one of the best things about growing up—such physical exercise instills self-esteem, confidence and teamwork, as well as builds healthy bodies—it comes with inherent risks and dangers.

Be informed

Before your child starts participating, take the following into consideration:

  • Since playing sports means taking risks and possibly getting hurt, talk to the coach about potential dangers and how to prevent them.
  • Ask for the coach’s conditioning plan or coaching certificate. Many states have a shortage of coaches, meaning anyone with a little knowledge or desire can be hired to teach your teen.
  • Find out in advance what the coach’s emergency first-aid plan is if a child is injured.
  • Know what safety equipment is required for your child’s sport. Then make sure it’s available—and that the team is using it. Equipment should fit properly and be current.
  • Check out the playing fields: Are they free from potholes, glass or other hazardous debris? Are goal posts padded?
  • Find out what will be expected of your child physically and make sure he or she is up to the challenge before practice begins. It’s a good idea to take your child to the pediatrician for a physical first so you’ll know whether your son or daughter is up for the demands of his or her chosen sport.
  • Advise your child not to play or train in pain—it could cause further injury.
  • Don’t relive your own athletic glory through your child and don’t push your child to do something he or she may not be ready for.

Another important piece of advice: You need to recognize that many coaches and parents place winning above all else, putting unrealistic demands and stress on children’s minds and bodies. You should ask the coach about his or her philosophy. Is it consistent with your values and beliefs? Your job is to be vocal, yet fair. Communicate with the coach and discuss any disagreements in a calm manner.

Keep it fun

Not all kids want to be the star soccer player or a leading quarterback. Check in with your child periodically to make sure he or she is still enjoying the game. Above all else, let your child know that, win or lose, you are always proud of his or her accomplishments.

Put your child’s health first

Before your child participates in sports, discuss the following with your pediatrician:

  • Heat stress. All athletes—especially those who are overweight—are at risk in hot, humid weather. Know the signs of heat stress and ensure your child drinks enough fluids.
  • Cardiovascular problems. Sports can be extremely dangerous if high blood pressure and heart conditions lie undiscovered.
  • Asthma. If needed, long-acting treatments can usually help to safely keep your child active.