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Getting Your Young Athlete Ready for Fall Sports
Posted By Horizon NJ Health on September 12, 2013
Tags: Fall, Sports, Athlete
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Howard Lu, M.D., Senior Medical Director, Horizon NJ Health

Q. I have a son and a daughter who are playing high school sports this fall. I really like watching them play but I worry about both of them getting injured. How can I help them prepare for their seasons?
A. Youth sports account for almost four million emergency room visits each year. The range of injuries can be anything from ACL tears and other knee injuries for soccer players to concussions for football players – even as young as 12.

Since high school football is the most popular fall sport in this country, and because so many injuries and deaths have been linked to both late summer training and impact injuries during games, I must start our discussion here. Because of some recent tragic deaths of former NFL players that have been linked to the concussions they received while playing, as well as more evidence that concussions can affect high school athletes in football, soccer and other sports, the medical profession has spent a lot of energy and resources in trying to deal with this. There have been many innovations in safety for football helmets and dental mouthpieces that may help reduce the impact of concussion.

What are some of the signs of concussion in any sport? A concussion usually has happened if your child:

  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Is confused about assignment or position
  • Forgets an instruction
  • Is unsure of game, score, or opponent
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Loses consciousness (even briefly)
  • Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes

Usually your player’s coach has already seen these symptoms and will pull them from the practice or the game. But your role as a parent is to make sure that he or she does not come back to action too soon. Make sure you let your pediatrician know what has happened to your youngster and that his coach knows of any prior concussions or other head injuries. Don’t let him back onto the field until his or her pediatrician clears them to play. If that means they miss a lot of games or playing time, so be it. The health of your son or daughter is more important than their high school playing career.

Another problem young athletes face that we in the medical profession are not talking enough about is sudden cardiac arrest in youth who are practicing or playing sports. Sudden cardiac arrest simply means that the youngster’s heart stops in the midst of activity, killing him or her instantly. While concussions are scary, dangerous occurrences in the life of a youth athlete, this type of sudden death can devastate families, teammates, schoolmates and coaches.

The statistics are scary: Every three days, an athlete under 18 years of age dies from a cardiac incident. These sudden deaths can also be correlated with heatstroke, heat exhaustion and other heat-related conditions. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has developed a set of guidelines for parents and coaches to reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses.

The guidelines recommend:

  • Changing activity as needed on hot days. Practices and games may need to be canceled or rescheduled to cooler times.
  • Providing rest periods of at least two hours between games or practices in warm to hot weather.
  • Limiting participation of children who have had a recent illness or have other risk factors that would reduce exercise-heat tolerance.
  • Providing risk-reduction training for coaches, trainers, and other adults. For instance, there are chest protectors – heart guards – available for youth baseball players that will reduce the incidence of heart injuries brought on by sudden impacts.
  • Ensuring trained staff is available on site to monitor for and promptly treat heat illness.
  • Educating children about preparing for the heat to improve safety and reduce the risk for heat illness.
  • Allowing children to gradually adapt to physical activity in the heat.
  • Offering time for and encouraging sufficient fluid intake before, during, and after exercise.
  • Developing and having in place an emergency action plan.

Parents of active daughters also need to know about problems specifically facing young female athletes. Girls who play fall sports such as field hockey, soccer and lacrosse as well as basketball face a higher likelihood of knee and hip injuries than do male athletes. A study showed that warm-ups before practice cut down on knee, ankle, and other lower extremity injuries in female high school athletes. These injuries dropped 67% among girls playing high school soccer and basketball when coaches started practice with a prescribed set of warm-up exercises for 20 minutes, the study said.

For more information on youth sports and health, please see: