10 Tips for Safe School Sports

It’s back-to-school season, which means students are back in their classrooms – and back on the court, field and track. Here, athletic training and sports medicine experts Jay Hertel and Michael Higgins share their top advice for how parents can set their kids up for a safe and healthy sports season. Watch the full conversation or read the highlights below:

  1. Be proactive. The best time to plan for an emergency is before it happens. At the start of a season, make sure you know the details of all plans and procedures related to safety and emergency care for your child's school and club sports teams. A few key questions to ask: What is the emergency action plan? Who is in charge? Where is the emergency equipment located? Are all coaches CPR and AED certified?
  2. Establish clear lines of communication. Your child's athletic team leaders, including coaches, administration and athletic trainers, should be well informed on your child's medical conditions, allergies, medications, etc. Make sure your student knows his or her medical history and who to talk to about any medical concerns during practice. Always be honest — open communication is important on all sides to help keep your athlete safe and healthy throughout the season.
  3. Schedule a thorough pre-participation sports physical. This exam will establish any underlying medical conditions and give your child's sports medicine team all the critical information they need. Look for a physician with plenty of experience performing sports physicals, so he or she will know exactly what to screen for.
  4. Prioritize rest. Adequate rest is critical for recovering between practices. An athlete's muscles need time to rest and recuperate, and sleep deprivation can lead to a range of adverse effects, both physical and mental.
  5. Encourage proper nutrition and hydration. Make sure your child is getting enough calories and replenishing nutrients after intense exercise. Sports drinks can be great for high-intensity activity, but look for lower sugar content. Avoid energy drinks, especially in the heat. You can't go wrong with plenty of water and real food — meaning fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and minimal processed food.
  6. Have an honest conversation about the mental side of sports. Mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation. Ask your child questions like: Why do you want to participate? What do you hope to gain from the experience? What happens if you win or lose? If you don't succeed, what happens next?
  7. Don't push too hard. It's easy to get caught up in the competition of athletics, but kids also need unstructured time to play and relax. A good guideline: a child should not participate in more hours per week of organized activity than their age. (For example, an 8-year-old should have no more than 8 hours of structured activity per week.)
  8. Encourage your child to try something new. Sports are a great, healthy way for your child to learn new skills and push themselves out of their comfort zone. Playing multiple sports can also minimize the risk of overuse injuries.
  9. Know the signs and symptoms of concussion. Sports-related concussions get a lot of media coverage — but they're more rare than you would think, especially at the elementary and high school level. Still, athletes and parents should know the signs and symptoms, including lethargy, decreased appetite and loss of balance. Athletes can also look into the option of getting a pre-concussion baseline assessment, which can help diagnose concussion in the event of sports-related head trauma.
  10. Have fun! Don't forget about all the benefits of participating in athletics. Statistically, children who participate in sports perform better academically and socially, and they also have better mental and physical health. By being proactive and prioritizing health, your student can have a safe, rewarding experience.