of the signs of injury and act quickly. Any pain that doesn’t disappear within a day or two should be evaluated by a doctor. Signs of concussion are especially important to recognize because they can be subtle and are sometimes masked by other symptoms. This type of brain injury can cause confusion, headaches, ringing in the ears, nausea, and lack of responsiveness.
Enjoyment is the key to safe sportsmanship, so make sure kids truly want to participate. Concussions sometimes go unrecognized for weeks, says Dr. Micheli. If you suspect one, see a doctor immediately. Screen for safety. Many sports programs are encouraging athletes to take part in pre-injury screening that helps identify brain injuries and rate their severity. The most widely used is the ImPACT test (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing), developed in the early 1990s by Dr. Mark Lovell and Dr. Joseph Maroon. When the test is taken before an injury, it provides a baseline for evaluating cognitive performance. After a concussion, the athlete’s recovery can be tracked so she or he doesn’t return to sports prematurely. Build muscle. Strength training and conditioning can help a child ward off injury. Dr. Micheli and Dr. Goolsby both recommend age-appropriate weight lifting under proper supervision. Stronger muscles www.mendolakefamilylife.com
provide greater stability and balance for jumping, landing, turning, throwing, and other strenuous moves. Grow caution. According to Dr. Micheli, kids are especially vulnerable to injury during growth spurts. If your child is growing (sudden increases in appetite and sleep needs are signs of a growth spurt), take extra safety precautions. Protect practice. Safety procedures for games and meets should be upheld at practice, too. Over 60 percent of sports-related injuries happen during practice, where safety standards are often more relaxed. Make practice safer by insisting on protective gear, rest, hydration, and other safety measures. See superior supervision. Sports medicine experts agree that parents should be aware of the level and quality of adult supervision
for their children’s sports teams. Credentialing and experience for coaches varies widely, particularly in community sports programs. School-sanctioned sports programs benefit from access to athletic trainers and conditioning facilities, while community-based sports programs often don’t. Serious sports injuries are tragic, says Dr. Micheli, because sports can and should be fun for kids. Childhood sports set the stage for a lifetime of healthy, active living. With the right safety precautions, sports-loving kids can stay safe and keep running, pitching, throwing, jumping, and cheering for years to come. ¶ Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades.
Sports Safety for Girls
rowing evidence points to the need for special safety precautions for female athletes, particularly those participating in high-intensity contact sports like basketball and soccer. “There’s good evidence that girls have two to three times the risk of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries and a greater risk of knee injuries in general,” says Dr. Micheli.
Dr. Goolsby played high school and collegiate basketball without a traumatic knee or ACL injury, something she attributes to conditioning and strength training. She advises girls to lift weights for strength, balance, and injury protection. As with all athletes and all sports, proper technique, experienced coaching, and skilled supervision are critical to safety. Nutrition is particularly important to pre-teen and teenage girls who play sports. A girl who has reached puberty but isn’t getting a period may have an energy imbalance; she needs to take in more calories to make up for energy spent during practice and games. Added calories should be nutrient-dense. Chips and soda don’t cut it, says Dr. Goolsby. If girl athletes don’t get enough calcium, their risk of stress fractures increases, so aim for 800 milligrams of calcium per day for kids ages 4–8 and 1300 milligrams per day for ages 9–18. —M.J.