As a parent, there is nothing as gratifying as watching our kids find their niche, work hard, and improve. We naturally want to foster any interest they have and support them as they grow their skills. If their niche is athletic, that’s great news. During practices and games, they are building healthy habits and a positive attitude that are likely to last a lifetime. Like any activity, though, athletic kids encounter a few familiar risks. By being aware of the most common causes of injury, parents can guide kids toward choices that will keep them safe and contribute to an increased likelihood of years of healthy play.
Pay attention to the equipment. I know that quality equipment is expensive, but its importance cannot be overstressed. Footwear that fits well, is appropriate to the sport, and is in good condition is especially important. Missing any one of these qualities could relate to injuries of the foot, ankle, and knee.
Stress mechanics. There is nothing more valuable to a kid’s sports team than a coach who knows how to teach the proper body mechanics. By “mechanics” I mean the actual movements necessary to, first, play the sport successfully and, second, to do so without injury. Completing the same movement over and over again in ways the body was not designed to move may, for a little while, give you the fast ball you’re looking for. As gratifying as the immediate results are, the arm will not hold up for long.
Take the time necessary to learn about the common mechanical mistakes made in the sports your children play and work to ensure your child and his or her teammates know what they are. Look for the common mistakes and correct them right away. Doing so may relate to a temporary setback in performance, but your child will be able to play successfully for many years, rather than just one or two.
Overuse is a common cause of injury. How proud are we when we see our kid out until just before dark practicing the same skill over and over? It’s the type of persistence that leads to real success, right? Sure. But overuse is also one of the most common causes of injury. Even if your child has the other three skills involved in the sport down pat, encourage your athlete to rotate through them and the weaker skill too. Doing so will give the muscles needed for each the time they need to recover in between. Physical therapists call this “active rest.” While you’re exercising one part of your body, you rest another.
Play more than one sport. Did you know that Tom Brady played football, basketball, and baseball in high school? In fact, he was drafted by the Montreal Expos baseball franchise immediately out of high school but decided to attend University of Michigan to play football instead. The moral of the story is, even if you find that your child has exceptional talent, don’t narrow focus too soon. There are benefits to developing skills necessary for several different sports, even apart from maintaining good physical condition during the off season.
Dr. Suk Namkoong is an orthopedic surgeon at SVMC Orthopedics and Northern Berkshire Orthopedics and is the team physician for the North Adams Steeplecats Collegiate Baseball Team. He appeared as a guest on WAMC Northeast Public Radio's Medical Monday program on Monday, August 13. WAMC/Northeast Public Radio is a regional public radio network serving parts of seven northeastern states. The recorded program is available at wamc.org/term/medical-monday.