Written for Knee1 by Allison Walker-Elders
By the time school has arrived, many sports teams have already held tryouts. Fall sports are in the midst of training, and students transform into young athletes. A growing body, while strong, can be very vulnerable to injury. Parents often feel caught between wanting to protect their children and needing to let them experience life on their own. As a parent, how do you prevent your child from damaging his or her body in sports?
The greatest danger in sports is the development of an overuse injury. One common problem that faces athletes (especially runners) is tendonitis, or inflammation of the tendons. Improper technique and chronic overuse causes the tendons at the joints to swell. This can be a frustrating setback for any athlete, but to a young one it is devastating. Injury can interfere with the growth plates found at joints and cause a permanent malformation. The risk is especially high in the knees, a frequent victim of tendonitis. Since knees suffer the most daily wear and tear, a sports-related injury can be a serious issue.
You can help your child avoid this by encouraging warm-up activities and stretching. This will keep his or her muscles loose and limber, ready for exercise. It’s also vitally important that your child stay well hydrated. He should always have a water bottle on hand (and drink from it often) and eat snacks packed with electrolytes (oranges are an excellent choice). To maintain activity, you can encourage your child to play a number of different sports. This brings us to the topic of cross-training.
Steps to Preventing Injury
Many physical therapists and personal fitness coaches recommend cross-training. Cross-training requires exercising in several different ways within a regular routine. While this is a lot to ask of a child, you can ensure that your son or daughter is exercising different muscle groups by encouraging a variety of sports. Cross-country in the fall and track in the spring (while both great sports) require muscles associated principally with running. However, if your kid is Mia Hamm in the fall, Michelle Kwan in the winter, and Anna Kournikova in the spring, she’ll have a stronger and more diverse skill set: soccer, ice-skating, and tennis all work different muscle groups.
In the long run, learning different sports exposes a child to a smorgasbord of stimuli. Different people, exercise routines, and game rules contribute not only to physical health, but also mental and emotional. They will feel healthier and have a more positive growing experience. By exposing your kids to many different types of exercise, you will help prepare them for a lifetime of activity.
Photo: Ivan Walsh