There are so many benefits children can get out of participating in sports - from physical coordination to social skills. But nothing spoils the fun like sitting on the bench with an injury.
As the coach or parent, there are simple things you can do to prevent injuries and keep players in the game.
This may be elementary as most schools require a pre-participation physical exam, or PPE before joining sports. But even if it's not required, doctors highly recommended it. Before playing any sports, it's important that the athlete has a PPE exam. The exam will allow a doctor or trainer to determine if it's safe for that athlete to participate in a specific sport.
If you coach a full contact sport, especially football or rugby, it's important to teach athletes how to use their body (and not their head) for defensive play. Incorporate safe contact drills into your practice to avoid head and neck injuries. In sports where helmets are mandated athletes feel safe using their head as a battling ram, increasing the risk of concussion, contusion or other head/neck injury.
Take the time to routinely inspect your players' gear. Check that pads and helmets are fitted properly and there are no signs of severe wear. After years of playing, athletes forget that the protective equipment, such as shin guards and mouthguards are not there just to appease the ref. Help them stay safe with routine gear checks prior to game or practice.
Too many players on your team to check personally? You can teach the senior players to conduct gear checks for their assigned junior members of your team. It will keep them safe, promote leadership and build stronger relationships within the team.
Just because the mouth guard is there, that doesn't mean athletes are wearing it properly. Fish-hooked or chewed threw mouthguards do not protect against dental impact. Check that mouthguards are fitted snugly and that athletes are wearing them in their mouth the entire time they're playing.
Pro Tip: Mouthguards do not protect against concussions. Have a discussion with your team about dental safety, concussions and safer plays.
Staying hydrated is the key to fighting fatigue and prolonging endurance. Make time for water breaks in between drills to ensure athletes are well hydrated. Bring extra water bottles or Gatorade to games and practices.
It's never a good idea to jump right into physical activity. Warming up reduces the risk of muscle strain, loosens the joints and increases blood flow to the muscles. Similarly, cooling down time gives the body a smooth transition into to a state of rest. But after the game, athletes don't want to stick around to cool down. Make both mandatory and make sure to spend at least 5 minutes before and after practice on warm-ups and cool-downs.
Your players are tough! A little injury doesn't phase them. Right? Wrong, actually. While it's a common attitude for players to play through the pain, it's your responsibility as a coach to protect athletes from preventable injuries.
Talk to your athletes about recognizing and reporting symptoms for common sports injuries, especially concussions and extreme muscle pain. To become an advocate for safer plays, actively promote an "if in doubt - sit it out" mentality.
It's a good idea to have a coach or athletic trainer on the field who is certified to respond to emergency injuries. The red cross offers courses for coaches on how to recognize athletic injuries such as concussions, heat related illnesses and asthma attacks. Be sure to keep a fully stocked first aid kit handy on the field or in a fanny pack (they're back in style anyways).
Last year 19 children died playing high school football. It is a staggering number - one we are committed never to allow to happen again. As the trusted adviser to parents and players, you are the single most important person who stands between athletes and injuries. Taking the time to teach and advocate safety will prevent your guys and gals from being hurt and keep them in play, where they belong.