Fall sports are in full swing, and for many kids, playing sports is not only a lot of fun, but it also helps them relieve stress, develop lasting friendships and stay in shape. So when you get sidelined due to an injury, it’s no surprise you’re eager to get back out there.
Take these 5 steps to prevent injuries and enjoy a safe sports experience so you can stay in the game.
Wear protective gear
The gear you wear depends on the sport you play, and should be worn during games, as well as practices. Helmets are the most common protective gear. They protect your all-important head while you’re playing football, hockey, baseball or softball, just to name a few.
Always make sure you’re wearing the right helmet for your sport. For instance, don’t wear your baseball batting helmet when you’re playing football.
“Sport helmets are designed to withstand the demands placed on them during a specific sport,” said Cortney Myer, physical therapist and supervisor of orthopedics and sports rehabilitation at Akron Children’s Hospital. “You are putting yourself at significant risk if you don’t use the appropriate personal protective equipment designed and regulated by a specific sport.”
Your helmet should fit snugly but comfortably, and if it has a strap — like a bike helmet does — you need to fasten it. Otherwise, it will fall off when you need it most.
Other sports require eye protection, mouth guards, pads, wrist, elbow and knee guards, and a protective cup (for boys only).
And, don’t forget your feet. Cleats are worn in football, baseball, softball and soccer. These shoes have special rubber or plastic points on the soles to help your feet grip the ground when you run around.
Warm up and cool down
It’s not a good idea to just bolt onto the field and start playing. A good warm up is essential for not only prepping your body, but also preventing injury.
“A good warm up dilates blood vessels, provides oxygen to your muscles and improves muscular temperature to optimize their efficiency,” said Myer. “Dynamic warm-up techniques allow the muscles to improve range of motion, which eases stress on the joints and tendons. It also slowly raises your heart rate minimizing stress on your heart.”
The cool down is just as important. This routine keeps blood flowing throughout the body and allows for a gradual decrease in your heart rate, so you don’t feel light-headed. It’s also a great time to stretch because your muscles and joints are still warm.
Know the rules of the game
Traffic lights at intersections help prevent crashes between the many cars and trucks that drive on the roads. This works because drivers know the rules and follow them. It’s the same way with sports.
When players know the rules of the game — what’s legal and what’s not — fewer injuries occur. You and the other players know what to expect from each other. For instance, you know that in soccer you can’t come from behind, crash into a player’s legs and steal the ball. It’s legal — and safer — to go after the ball rather than the player.
With sports that use plays, it helps to understand the plays and what your role is in each one. Being where you’re supposed to be can help you stay out of harm’s way, too.
Watch out for others
Some rules don’t have anything to do with scoring points or penalties. Some rules are just about protecting other people and being courteous.
For instance, in baseball or softball, the batter can’t fling the bat after hitting the ball and heading for first base. He must drop it so that it doesn’t hit anyone. Likewise, a diver would make sure that the pool was clear before diving in. Otherwise, she might land on someone else.
One way you can watch out for others is to communicate on the field. For instance, a baseball player in the outfield might yell, “I got it” to avoid a collision with another outfielder. Also, listening to your coach during a game can help keep you safe.
Don’t play when you’re injured
This is a really important one. If you love sports, it’s tempting to get right back in the game, even after an injury. But playing when you’re hurt — or before an injury has had a chance to fully heal — is a bad idea. It can lead to an even worse injury, one that might sideline you for a long time.
“Often times if athletes return too soon, we lose another few weeks,” said Cortney. “This sets the athletes even further behind and can also have a big psychological effect.”
Even though you may be feeling great, the tissue may still not be fully ready for the demand of sports. In physical therapy, Cortney said, therapists will progressively build activity tolerance and even mimic sport-like activities to strengthen the tissue and eventually assess return-to-sports readiness.
So be honest with parents and coaches if you’ve been hurt. See a doctor for your injuries, when necessary, and follow his advice about how and when to return to practice and play.
Now that you know about staying safe, hopefully if you follow rules 1, 2, 3 and 4, you won’t need number 5, or at least not quite as often!