When it comes to sports games for children, sports organizers, officials, coaches, and parents all have responsibilities for keeping young athletes healthy.
Overzealous parents and coaches can be so bent on winning that they push kids to extremes that may lead to injury. In particular, some parents pressure their children to play competitively at very young ages, when they're more vulnerable to injury. Let your child play for the fun of it. If he develops a competitive spirit through his participation, it should be without adult pressure.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends that team organizers group athletes by size, skill level, and physical maturity rather than by chronological age, especially in contact sports. If this isn't possible, coaches should modify the sport to accommodate kids with varying ability levels. Game officials can make sure kids play fair, and they can call fouls or otherwise sanction players who engage in unnecessarily rough or dangerous play that can injure others.
Coaches can also minimize injuries if they:
- Check playing areas regularly to make sure conditions are safe. Note especially if there are any holes in the turf or if glass or other debris is scattered on the playing surface.
- Insist that children wear appropriate safety gear.
- Have kids bring water bottles to practices and games and make sure they take breaks to avoid dehydration when playing in hot weather.
- Require kids to warm up their muscles before play and stress to them the importance of staying in peak physical condition.
- Don't let kids overexert themselves on the playing field. For example, baseball pitchers should be limited to a certain number of pitches or innings.
- Ensure that all participants know the rules—and play by them.
Kids need adequate calcium to build strong bones and help avoid fractures later in life. Milk is one of the best sources and also contains vitamin D, which helps calcium absorption. Encourage your kids to drink at least three glasses a day. If they won't drink milk, try other dairy products such as yogurt and cheese.
Parents can support their athletes by encouraging them to eat a healthy diet and get enough sleep. Before your child starts a new sport, you should consult with your pediatrician about the need for a physical.
Get to know your child's coaches so you're assured that they are not sacrificing safety by pushing kids to win.
Boys and Girls Together
Until they reach puberty, it's generally okay for boys and girls to play sports together. After puberty, however, boys become larger and stronger as they gain more muscle mass. At that point, doctors usually recommend they not play on the co-ed teams. Exceptions are made occasionally for an outstanding female player for whom there is no girls' team.