INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - As we move out of summer's unorganized play and back into fall's team sports, it's important to stay aware of your child's needs when it comes to being a healthy athlete.
Factors like sports nutrition, hydration, rest and how to recognize an injury are vital to overall performance at all ages.
Involvement in youth sports grows every year. Participation in the U.S. is widespread (more than 50 percent) and often leads to year-round training and specialization to one particular sport.
Beware, as this style of increased intensity, increased competition and the resulting decrease of free play time statistically leads to overtraining, injury and burnout.
The ultimate goal of youth sports should be to promote a lifelong habit of regular physical activity and learn the skills of healthy competition that kids will use in all aspects of their future as athletes or not.
Playing sports can lead to increased self-esteem, motor skill development, socialization, teamwork and overall fitness.
The most common age for sports injuries in males is 14; females, 15. Modifiable risk factors include flexibility, strength, balance, body awareness, sleep patterns, coaching (including the coach's education level and style), psychosocial factors (how much pressure do they feel they are under) and nutrition.
Highest risk sports are hockey, basketball, football for boys; gymnastics, basketball and soccer for girls.
Some training recommendations that parents and coaches are encouraged to consider include:
• Starting practice at least 6 weeks prior to the first game of any sport.
• Progress the intensity of practice by 10 percent each week to allow for skill development and avoid overtraining.
• Avoid early sport specialization.
• Allow for unorganized play during practice.
• Teach good biomechanics.
• Encourage a 5 day training max.
• After a game, rest 3-4 days to recover.
• Avoid tournament play under age 16 (does not allow for enough recovery time between games).
• Encourage a dynamic stretching warm up and significant cool-down.
The first sign of an injury is muscle fatigue and soreness after playing. Allow your child to be vocal about their body pain. Recognizable signs of injury include point tenderness, swelling, skin discoloration, an inability to move the affected body part, "locking" of a joint or a "pop/snap" heard at time of injury. It's important to respect these kinds of symptoms and seek medical care swiftly if your child is experiencing them.
Nutrition and hydration are the key to success to youth sports. Children have smaller bodies when compared with adults and therefore, less surface area to expel heat (sweat). Decreased opportunities to thermoregulate can lead to heat injuries and premature muscle fatigue. Allow kids to drink whenever they are thirsty and to communicate with their coaches if they need to sit out and recover. Urine should be clear yellow - this can be a simple way to get kids to become more aware of their hydration needs.
When it comes to nutrition, young athletes need a healthy snack within 30 minutes of a practice/game to put good nutrients back in their bodies. In the first 30 minutes after exercise the body absorbs nutrition more quickly due to a higher metabolic rate: and conversely, will tap into vital energy stores if young athletes do not replace energy within this time period. Good examples are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Gatorade, string cheese, chocolate milk and granola bars. Avoid caffeine and carbonated drinks as they inhibit calcium proliferation in muscle and bones.
Rest is also extremely beneficial to the young athlete. The National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) recommends 16-20 hours of exercise/week with at least 1-2 days off. Only one team of the same sport per team per season and two to three months off of a particular sport per year. And get a full night's sleep. It's also important to consider puberty and hormonal changes, which affect sleep needs as your child ages.
We all want to see our children develop healthy and fit lifestyle habits and excel at their sports this year. Many parents keep their kids fit and body aware by consulting with their licensed physical therapist at the beginning of the season. Physical therapy will offer pointers on improving strength, body awareness, and knee control, evaluation of running mechanics, postural assessment and jumping/joint loading analysis among other sport-specific needs.
Together parents, coaches, and physical therapists can keep our kids playing their hardest and healthiest this season.
- Dr. Cheryl Naylor, DPT, helps patients at North Tahoe Physical Therapy, located at 889 Alder Ave. in Incline Village. Learn more at www.northtahoept.com.