For many parents, there’s nothing quite as enjoyable as being able to cheer on your child as they participate in a sport they love. Sure we may have grandiose dreams that one day they’ll make it to the Olympics or land a contract with a professional team, but have you taken time to consider what it realistically takes for our kids to succeed in sports? Whether your child is about to start their first spring sports activity or has several years under their belts, the Children’s Wellness Center providers would like to remind everyone about sports safety 101 and ways we, as parents, can help enrich the lives of our kids with the help of sports.
Knowing when your child is actually ready to start a particular sport is a good jumping point to consider. When we use the term “ready,” we mean the stage in their growth and development when their physical, mental, and social skills are on par with that sport and the basic requirements needed to participate. Popular spring sports this time of year are soccer, baseball, softball, tennis, lacrosse, swimming, etc. but each of these are distinctly different and require a specific set of skills that will not only better equip children to actively participate, but also give them more enjoyment and encouragement to succeed. Generally speaking, many kids five years old and younger may not have the basic motor skills, behavioral maturity, and coordination for certain team sports, so introducing them to activities that involve active play, caters to shorter attention spans, and offers chances to improve skills at their own pace are all good first options (so think along the lines of running, swimming, and throwing/catching to start). By age six, children have a basic understanding of how to adapt to the requirements of basic level sports like soccer, tennis, gymnastics, martial arts, skiing, etc. – it’s at these early stages, and even up until age 12, that kids learn the rules of the game and increase their skill development within a particular sport.
Say your child has found “the” sport they’re most passionate about – what should you keep in mind then? For us, we believe it should be their safety. Sports-related injuries are something all athletes risk facing whenever their actively involved in any sport but certain factors can be detrimental to your kid’s health. Overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout are the three general risks parents should be made aware of when preventing sports-related injuries:
- Overuse Injuries – as the most common type of children sports injury, this type of injury happens from overworking the body and starts as general wear and tear (injuries to the bones, muscles, and tendons). Our kids may ignore pain during, or after practices, and continue to play through the pain rather than take the time needed to rest and allow injuries to properly heal. This not only creates consistent pain for your child but can lead to more severe or long-term health related concerns. In the same respects, it’s also recommended that your child not be limited to playing the same sport year-round. Yes, we want our children to focus on improving their skills over time, but letting them try more sport options helps to reduce the risk of overuse injuries that can become exasperated from daily, repetitive physical demands.
- Overtraining – there is a common thought that the more you practice, the better you’ll get. Yes, training and practice can be the keys to sports success, but at what cost to your child’s wellbeing is it worth it? Long hours of practice, little recover time, and playing multiple sports during the same season can all contribute to overtraining and possibly overuse injuries in the future.
- Burnout – what’s the point of playing a sport as a kid if they’re not having any fun? Sports can be both mentally and physically demanding – so much so that as our kids get older, sometimes they can grow to really dislike participating in something they once were very passionate about. Once they’ve reached the point where they’d rather be any place else besides their practice or game, this is what we call burnout. Burnout doesn’t just have emotion effects but it can also include physical ramifications like chronic pain, fatigue, and overuse injuries that contribute to the desire to choose another sport or quit altogether.
Sure we may not always be able to shield our kids from getting hurt while playing a sport, but it’s our duty to provide the necessary tools they need. As their parent, they need encouragement and unconditional support. We sometimes tend to project our goals and dreams onto our kids, but try to keep in mind that they have their own goals and dreams too. Sports should be fun and a time when good values, like sportsmanship, teamwork, and discipline, are instilled in kids beyond what they learn in the home – not a time to criticize their efforts or put unnecessary pressures on them. At the very core, kids are kids (not small adults) and should have the freedoms to discover what sports they love and have the opportunity to succeed in whatever way works best for them as an individual.