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Minimize The Risk Of Injury
The likelihood of getting hurt in team sports–
and how to make your kids safer


By John Thomas


Most of us know the upside, the benefits of team sports for our sons and daughters-learning teamwork, getting fit, making friends, feeling good about themselves. But what about the risks? The banged-up shoulder? the broken nose or arm? the very rare truly serious injury, or even fatality? Where do you strike a balance? Are there ways to steer our kids toward safer sports or mediate the risks in others?

What follows is meant to be informative-not alarmist. Because your child's first protection is your involvement. It's important to know what your kids are doing out there on the school athletic field. Hang out at practice. Talk to the coach, spend time at games. Have an honest talk with your child, make sure he or she is comfortable with the sport. For useful information, check out the web site of the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation (www.nyssf.org). And read our quick guide to the games and sports your kids are likely to play.




Football

Moms rarely ever want their sons (or daughters) to have anything to do with the oblong pigskin. Why? Because even with all the padding players wear it can seem extremely dangerous. Football is a contact sport with a lot of intense collisions, and each year more than 61,000 children end up heading to the emergency room to be treated for football-related injuries (most of which occur in practice, by the way, not games). To help avoid injuries, it's critical that kids wear ALL of the appropriate padding (shoulder pads, hip pads, tail pads, knee pads, thigh guards and a mouth-guard). Make sure that your child wears cleats to get a grip on the ground, and that if your child wears glasses, he should have shatter-proof glass. Also, make sure the goal posts are padded, because knocking into one of them can knock the stuffing out of your kid. Also keep in mind that defensive backs are the most prone to injury; if you're nervous, steer your child to another position. Make sure the coach knows what he's doing. One of the main reasons kids get hurt playing football is because they don't know how to tackle and they lead with their head. A good coach can show players how to do it correctly and stay safe. And if you're worried that your child is too young to play the game, keep in mind that the older he gets, the more dangerous football becomes, so maybe letting him get it out of his system as a pee wee player isn't such a bad idea.


Baseball

Baseball may not look as dangerous as football, but a rock-like baseball is a lot harder and potentially more deadly than a leather ball filled with air. Even though some of the most common baseball-related injuries include strains and sprains, most baseball injuries involve a child's head (41%, as opposed to 31% involving the arm, hand, fingers or elbow). Also, for children ages 5-14, there were 88 deaths on the baseball field between 1973-1995 (92% occurring because a child was struck by either a ball or a bat). In about 30% of all baseball-related injuries, proper equipment could have either lessened the extent of the trauma or helped avoid it completely. Make sure your child's batting helmet fits properly and make sure that he or she wears it in all the right situations. It might seem uncool and overly cautious to a child, but he should wear his helmet while standing in the on-deck circle, while at the plate, AND while running the bases. It is also a good idea to look into what safety equipment your child's coach is using. Many advances have been made in the way of safer and softer balls, face guards and break away bases, all of which can help eliminate injury on the field. Only some leagues require face guards, which are a very good way to decrease the risk of injury, so find out if your league does. Also, make sure if your child plays catcher that he uses a proper catcher's mitt, and be certain your league prohibits the use of metal spikes.


Gymnastics

Gymnastics is a great way for your son or daughter to work on their balance and coordination. Because it's an individual sport, it may seem fairly risk free, but that is not the case. You need to be aware of several things when deciding to allow your children to get involved in gymnastics. First, the sport has a very high injury rate for kids. In fact, because of the high rate of injuries to the arm, knee and back, it has earned the nickname the "football of noncontact sports." According to the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation, "the sport of gymnastics has several inherent risks, including the danger of catastrophic injury to the head and neck. Injuries common to the sport include acute traumatic injuries from falls and dismounts and overuse injuries from highly intense year-round training." Always make sure that mats in the gym where your children practice and compete are adequate and in the right position. Explain to your kids that one of the most important things to avoid in gymnastics is landing on the head or neck. Injuries to the teeth are also not uncommon, and most young gymnasts do not wear mouthguards, which would help prevent those injuries. In addition to physical risks, gymnastics also poses serious psychological risks for kids. Many coaches encourage their female gymnasts to maintain very trim and fit physiques, which can lead to inducing eating disorders in young people. If you see any signs of eating disorders, talk with your child or seek some professional help.


Soccer

In many areas of the country, soccer is the hot sport. It's a great game and a kid doesn't have to be incredibly strong or big to be successful. Soccer isn't the most dangerous sport a kid can play, but there are ways to reduce the dangers that are associated with the sport. Obviously, legs are one of the most vulnerable body parts while playing soccer. Research shows, however, that most leg injuries happen to kids who don't wear shin guards. Some kids think that shin guards are for sissies and that wearing them makes it more difficult to kick the ball and get a proper feel for it. However, you can explain to your child that it only takes a short time to get used to wearing shin guards, and that being safe m






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