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Young athletes: Cheer them on to safety

Dr. Linne Curtis, Board-certified Pediatrician Health and Wellness, Safety

Only a few athletes will bring home an Olympic medal this summer, but every kid's a winner when it comes to playing sports. Game time can boost a youngster's social skills and provide plenty of healthful exercise that's also a lot of fun.

To support their kids and keep them moving, parents can work together with coaches and their young athlete to help reduce risks of injury.

What goes wrong?

Most often, youth athletes are sidelined by:

• Sprains and strains. These involve injuries to ligaments or muscles and tendons.

• Growth-plate injuries. These occur when the developing tissues at the ends of children's long bones get hurt.

• Overuse injuries. These are the result of repetitive motions—pitching in baseball, for instance—that stress and strain bones and soft tissues. Overuse injuries are especially common when eager athletes don't take time off from a sport.

Stay off the injured list

Luckily, sports injuries usually aren't severe—and they're often avoidable. To help your child score in safety, consider the following advice:

Ask questions. Learn what your child's sports program is doing to prevent and respond to injuries, such as ensuring conditioning for players and safety training for coaches.

Schedule a physical. A preseason exam from a doctor will help confirm that your youngster is healthy enough to play.

Get equipped. Depending on the sport, a helmet, body padding, mouthguards or shinguards, eye protection, and proper shoes may be needed.

Play by the rules. From football to soccer, many sports have rules designed to prevent injuries. Make sure your child knows—and follows—them.

Beat the heat. Give your child a water bottle—and encourage frequent intake. Your child should be drinking water before they are thirsty to prevent dehydration.

Warm up. Encourage warm-up exercises before and cooldown exercises after both practices and games.

Don't downplay concussions. Players with a concussion shouldn't get back in the game until medically evaluated and cleared to play.

Encourage rest. Athletes need breaks in between seasons and during practices and games.

Speak up. Teach your child to speak up if he or she is sick or hurt. And remember to check with your child's doctor should you suspect an injury.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; National Institutes of Health; Safe Kids Worldwide