Tips for avoiding injury in young athletes
If your kid plays an organized sport, odds are they’re either a) running around between 15 different sports/activities or b) so busy with the demands of one they might as well be a professional athlete. Therefore, your children spend their time in sports overtraining, and then they go to school and sit for hours, tightening up those muscles. While their young age might make them a little better at rebounding, they’re still growing, learning important movement patterns, and need rest and recovery just like we all do.
With minimal off-season and the “more is more” mentality of youth sports, kids end up weaker than you might realize in critical areas, increasing risk for an injury. Young athletes should feel energized and fresh for practice and games, not beaten down and overworked. Even with your kids’ busy schedules, there are many things you can do as a parent to help mitigate their risk of injury. Start with helping them develop a solid strength foundation in key muscles like the core and posterior chain (back of the body), and facilitate recovery through active mobility, compression, and proper nutrition.
Your kid doesn’t need to resemble The Rock, but it’s important to consider basic strength training for injury prevention. According to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on the safety and efficacy of youth strength training:
“The focus of youth resistance training programmes should be on learning proper exercise technique and not on the amount of weight lifted. Qualified professionals who have an understanding of youth resistance training and pediatric fitness should provide supervision and instruction. Resistance training sessions should include exercises for all of the major muscle groups including the hips, abdomen and lower back.”
Simple bodyweight movements, such as push-ups, squats, rows, crawling, and jumping can teach them to control their bodies in space. With these movements, make sure they focus on things like knees tracking in line with their toes, hand and scapular positions, and core stability. Getting a trained eye to facilitate quality movement can help, as long as it doesn’t add to your kid’s already full plate. Really, many of these exercises can be done during the warm-up for practices, especially if they’re going every day.
Below is a list of exercises that, when done properly, can help prevent overuse injuries from sport-specific practice and competition.
- Glute bridges (Against a band, marching, and single leg variations)
- Good Mornings/RDL’s
- Lunges (multi-directional)
- Push up
- Inverted Row
- Shoulder Y, T, W’s
- Bear Crawl
- Dead Bug
Warm-ups, Cool Downs, and Active Recovery
Stretching is no longer the 30-second static holds of your childhood days on the soccer field. In fact, research about pre-exercise static stretching has show it can actually make reaction time, speed, and strength endurance worse. Dynamic stretching is the new warm-up (and cool down) that prepares your kids to move through ranges of motion similar to their sport. Getting moving and mobile for a good warm-up through things like dynamic lunges, bodyweight squats, leg swings, and jumps primes their bodies for the challenges ahead.
Additionally, during a cool down, keep the kids active. Not only does it help the blood flow continue, it can slowly calm down the body. Active recovery, such as getting in the pool, a light jog, or dynamic stretches can work wonders for shortening recovery time. However, prioritize quality movement over anything else. The more time your kids spend in all kinds of positions, the better equipped their body will be to handle an unexpected perturbation.
If you haven’t heard of delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, you’ve definitely heard your kid complain about it. DOMS is the soreness that comes a day or two after a hard practice or game. It is believed to result from use of and damage to muscle and nearby tissue combined with inflammation. Fortunately, compression can help alleviate both of these issues.
The inflammatory response, even at a minor level, is the body’s way of increasing pressure and fluid around taxed muscles and joints. Yet due to an increase in swelling, it also triggers surrounding pain receptors and leads to soreness. The general idea of compression is to provide external pressure in order to decrease internal swelling, which may lessen the degree of pain and inflammation. It’s relatively the same idea as icing a sore joint after playing, just a different mechanism. Getting your kids in a compression sleeve after practices or between games can help them feel better while playing, thus reducing the likelihood of fatigue-based injuries.
Finally, the most important, day-to-day thing you can do to keep your child healthy is feed them well. As they’re highly active, they’re going to be quite hungry since their caloric demands are up. Depending on your kid’s age, growth rate, gender, and activity level, this will vary tremendously. Consider getting a consultation with a doctor to get specifics, but here’s a general overview of what good nutrition for young athletes looks like:
- Of utmost importance, kids absolutely need to stay hydrated as water contributes to muscle contraction, fatigue, endurance and much more.
- Make sure they always have a water bottle throughout the day and are constantly drinking during practices and games.
- Avocado, Fish oil, Mixed Nuts, Salmon and other oily fish
- Good for inflammation management
- Key for maintaining lean mass and muscle/connective tissue health
- Lean meats, eggs, milk, cottage cheese, yogurt
- Keep insulin levels stable and are full of vitamins/minerals
- Pineapple, berries, whole grains, sweet potato, etc.
Follow these basic guidelines, and your child will have a better time handling the demands of youth sports. Most importantly, however, make sure they’re happy, healthy, and balanced in all aspects of life, and that they get some time to just be a kid.