Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Smart Play Keeps Young Athletes In The Game, Injury-Free

Photo courtesy of Hill House, Boston, Mass.

With warm sunshine returning, children will be stepping outside from hibernation and video games to play in youth sports leagues. One issue for parents and coaches is keeping them safe and preventing injury for “smaller” athletes. Experts agree that better preparation can help avoid long-term effects.

“Some injuries are with you for life,” said Curt Audin, a staff nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital. “The best kind of prevention is having smart parents that understand the benefit of sports and keep an eye on the kids and good coaches who know the games and are students of the games.”

A 2007 study by Safe Kids USA reported that more than 3.5 million kids 14-years-old and younger have to get medical treatment for a sports-related injury, and 40 percent of sports-related injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms affect kids in the 5-14-year-old age group.

While kids will be kids and accidents happen, there are ways to prevent serious injury. A recent article in “Education Week” about girl’s knee injuries suggests warm-up exercises that focus on strength and agility to strengthen muscles around joints can be useful as well as teaching young athletes how to jump, land, and fall properly. Stretching before and after any game or practice session is important.

“Everything is instantaneous,” said Ian Moorhouse, associate director of Hill House. “Kids don’t want to stretch. They want to get right to the game.”

But stretching warms up tight muscles. Bypassing stretching, or rushing through it and doing it improperly, means you will be working out tight muscles, which can tear when you attempt to go through a joint’s full range of motion.

Hill House, located on Mount Vernon Street in Beacon Hill, provides athletic programs for kids and has several rules that ensure safety. “We have a weather plan. We cancel games if it’s too dangerous outside,” said Moorhouse. “We also changed the age groups so we don’t have 12-year-olds pitching to nine-year-olds.”

“Baseball season is coming up and we’ve put signs out that no one will be in the on-deck circles and no bats are allowed in the dugout,” said Brian Koslosky, sports coordinator at Hill House. “We also make sure that we have the right balls and bats for the age group. We use softer ball and lighter bats for younger kids.”

After his work as a nurse, Audin also serves as a youth lacrosse referee and coach and said that a referee is also essential in keeping younger athletes safe.

“One of the biggest things we stress is to keep the kids safe and to over officiate in order to control the game and help prevent a player from getting hurt,” he said. “All too often we hear from the sidelines, ‘let the kids play,’ but we have to be sharp on drawing the line between playing and a potential injury.”

And a sure way to prevent injury is for kids to be engaged and enjoying themselves.

“The fun quotient has to be relatively high,” said Michael Blanchard, president of the South Shore Lacrosse League and Hull Youth Lacrosse. “If they’re having fun, they’re less likely to do something stupid. When they’re bored is when they are more inclined to experiment and do unsafe things.”

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