Stop by any field or gym on a weekend and you will see kids participating in youth sports.
So, what is the draw to youth sports? Is it the competition, the physical exercise, or possibly the social aspect? All of these are actually true to some extent, but when you ask kids, it comes down to the fun factor and how kids identify themselves. Unfortunately, statistics show that 70 percent of children drop out of organized sports by the time they are 11 years old, spending less than three years playing. The number one reason that kids quit is because they are no longer having fun. Kids want to be part of something, and they want to have fun in the process.
Everyone loves to see kids having fun. But what about the higher lessons that organized sports offer?
Being a student athlete teaches a lot of lessons that foster success later in life. Not only does participating in sports help to combat childhood obesity, but active kids are more likely to become healthy adults. Participation in organized sports also aids in development of social skills, positive habits, and self-image. Statistically, students who participate in organized athletics have better attendance in school, achieve higher grades, and have fewer discipline issues. The academic/athletics balance offers a training ground for the work/life balance our youth will face as adults. Some of the life lessons that student athletes are exposed to include teamwork, work ethic, effort, sportsmanship, prioritization, emotional intelligence, and camaraderie.
As a parent, you want to encourage and push your children to be the best they can be. Similarly, as a coach, you want to inspire and shape the kids on your team to become their very best selves. It’s essential to nurture and care for young athletes, which requires understanding how they develop both physically and mentally while guiding them toward a happy, healthy, active lifestyle.
There are many things you can do as a parent or coach of a young athlete to ensure they get the most out of their experience and don’t wind up dropping out and missing out on all the great benefits continued participation offers. Here are 10 tips to support the young athletes in your life.
1. Encourage fun while building healthy habits.
Get involved with your kids. Being active doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, some of the best exercise comes from simply getting your family outside and playing. Start a nightly family walk or play a game of tag after dinner. Not only will you get good exercise, but you will be spending quality time together as a family. As adults, we often find ourselves in front of a television after we’ve already spent the entire day sitting in front of a computer. Try something new this week! Let everyone in the family choose a fun activity to get moving and spread them out throughout the week. Before you know it, you’ll be creating great family memories and building healthy athletes!
2. Build relationships.
One of the best things parents and coaches can do for young athletes is to strengthen relationships with one another. For coaches, opening yourself up to relationships with parents is one of the best ways to create connections with the kids on your team. For parents, if your child participates in multiple sports, get to know their different coaches and trainers. Additionally, take time to get to know those directly connected to your child’s overall wellbeing. From health exams to physical therapy assessments, and from academic performance to connections with friends, you will gain access to knowledge about your child’s physical and emotional health. The more people that you build relationships with who have an integral part in your child’s life, the more information and guidance you will have to help build and support a healthy athlete.
3. Promote participation in multiple sports.
Cross-training has been an essential part of an athlete’s regiment for many years, yet we are often told that repetition and consistent practice makes perfect. However, when a child continuously practices and competes in a single sport, repetitive movements can increase risk of overuse injury. Young athletes need a chance to participate in different sports requiring different muscle activation and movement patterns, which ultimately makes for a better all-around athlete.
Additionally, especially for young athletes, the opportunity to try various sports will help them to determine what they most enjoy and where they excel. Being active in multiple sports will keep young players from getting bored and overwhelmed while building developmental and complementary physical skills. To reduce the risk of burnout, consider encouraging a different sport for each season, keeping kids active and involved year-round while also expanding their social experiences.
4. Time training for optimal sports seasons.
Timing is everything … or at least that’s what we’ve all been told. This adage does hold true for developing a healthy athlete. Timing a child’s training program around a sports season is key to ensuring they avoid injury while also supporting their skill growth. A training timeline is best viewed as four quarters. Each quarter is essential to staying healthy and “peaking” at the right moment.
5. Work with a physical therapist for injury prevention.
For your child, you want to make sure that injury or the risk for injury is at an all-time low. To do this, consider a preventative training program. As experts in musculoskeletal health, physical therapists can create a preventative training program customized for each individual child, empowering them to stay ahead of the game. This type of training program begins with an assessment of muscle imbalance or weakness, which increases injury risk. From there, the program will be a combination of resistance training, stretching, conditioning, coordination training, core training, and even fundamentals, ensuring your athlete will be ready and properly trained.
6. Elect to have a pre-participation screening and assessment.
Before going on a long road trip, we take time to make sure that the car is in tiptop shape to avoid unexpected problems that might delay or postpone the adventure. The same idea applies to our bodies. Halfway through the season, you do not want your child to experience an injury that could have been avoided.
With a physician screening, also known as a sports physical, your child’s doctor can tell you whether they are physically able to safely participate in the upcoming season. In addition to a physician screening (physical), a physical therapy assessment provides an in-depth evaluation on how a young athlete’s body moves and any restrictions or imbalances they may have that could lead to injury. After an assessment, a physical therapist can provide a customized training plan to ensure your enthusiastic athlete avoids injury and stays healthy.
Additionally, concussion baselines such as ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) are essential when it comes to athletes. This testing provides a baseline of the athlete’s cognitive ability. If an athlete were to experience trauma to their head, their previous testing can be used to compare and assess their mental state. Not only does this tool help communicate to the athlete, parent, and coach about the child’s post-concussion status, but it also allows health care professionals to track recovery. For more information about ImPACT testing, visit their website.
7. Commit to a proper warm-up before every practice, game, or race.
Referring back to the car analogy, we typically warm up our car prior to driving so it will work efficiently as we travel. Often, we fail to commit to the same care for our bodies. A dynamic warm up will help your athlete to prep their body’s muscles and soft tissue for optimum performance. These short and intermittent movements will help reduce the risk for injury by preventing overload on inadequately prepared muscles.
A dynamic warm up should not be confused with static stretching. By comparison, a static stretch is designed to lengthen muscles and improve flexibility, not warm up the muscles. If done at the wrong time, static stretching can inhibit activity and overall performance. Studies show that dynamic movements are best used in preparation for movement (or prior to practice or game), and static stretching is great for cooling down (after practice or game).
8. End workouts with an active recovery.
After working hard during an intense practice or game, athletes’ bodies benefit from active recovery during the cool-down phase immediately after and during the days following a practice or game. Active recovery includes hydration, nutrition, rest, and static stretching.
9. Follow safety recommendations.
To ensure the health of young athletes, you must take safety precautions. Continuous repetitive movements can cause overuse injuries. To limit this stress, regulate the repetitive movements in practice. If an athlete is trying to perfect a throw or kick, limit the number of times it is performed. Allow them to focus on other activities by creating an exercise circuit. This offers a more balanced and interactive workout.
In addition, make sure that your athlete is dressed appropriately with correct safety equipment and proper footwear. Not only is your athlete potentially growing out of last year’s gear but wear and tear can decrease the safety benefits of the equipment.
10. Don’t ignore injuries.
Whether we like it or not, injuries do occur. The spectrum of pain is difficult to grasp, as pain is perceived differently by every person. A rule of thumb when dealing with injures is to always listen to your athletes. Make sure that if they mention an injury, pain, or discomfort, take note and relay it to your physical therapist. Be sure your report includes how they became injured, where the pain is located, when the injury took place, and how long it’s been bothering them. The “No Pain = No Gain” theory is often used to toughen athletes, but pain should never be ignored. Athletes should be trained to recognize injuries early to keep them healthy and in the game.
Simply stated, the sooner an injury is treated, the quicker and often the better the recovery. Fortunately, under state laws, direct access grants you the right to choose physical therapy without a physician’s prescription or referral, providing you the option of seeking immediate care for your child. A Doctor of Physical Therapy is a musculoskeletal expert who will explore all possible causes of an injury or nagging pain and offer a clinical diagnosis or refer you to a medical specialist if necessary.
Youth orthopedic physical therapy utilizes fun and effective treatment strategies that may include manual therapy, ASTYM, and specific exercises to improve strength, range of motion, motor-pattern-sequencing, inflammation, and loading tolerance. We perform regular re-testing of the injured body part and progression of sport-specific exercise to measure improvement.
It can be challenging to determine the difference between an injury that will heal on its own, or one that needs medical care. Our physical therapists are here for you and serve as front-line medical providers for you and your children’s musculoskeletal health.
Keeping kids in the game!
Our therapists are passionate about helping patients of all ages live a healthy and active life. If you or your child have pain preventing you from excelling at a favorite sport or activity, or you’re interested in a pre-participation assessment and personalized training program, your local Therapeutic Associates Physical Therapy expert can help. Our goal is helping you reach yours.