Young boy playing baseballEven the mildest injuries can throw a wrench into your child’s fun during the summer, so it’s wise to be mindful of ways to keep everyone healthy. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), three million kids get injured playing sports each year—most of the injuries occurring as a result of falls, being struck by an object, collisions, and overexertion. Even if your young athlete will only be playing backyard sports, keep these safety tips in mind:

1. Protective gear and good shoes are a must.

As parents, we worry about our kids constantly, but sometimes we don’t worry about the right things. Helmets save lives! According to the AAP, cycling, skateboarding, and skating are responsible for the majority of sports-related head injuries, so protect those tender noggins! Buy proper mouth guards to protect teeth, protective padding and shin guards, and the right shoes (FYI: soccer cleats won’t work for baseball). Shoes from last season may be worn down and uneven on the bottom, which can cause an ankle to twist—so don’t chance it.

2. See the doctor for a check of previous injuries.

Before allowing your child to participate in sports, make sure to get the green light from your physician. Your child may be advised to tape the injured area or wear a supportive brace during games. Make sure to follow all recommendations to prevent re-injury.

3. Insist on proper rest.

This is especially critical during summer months, when kids and parents alike tend to stay up too late. Proper sleep will aid in preparing your child for competition, help her concentrate (and avoid injury) on the field, and then recover.

4. Just say no to bare feet for sports.

Warm weather may be all about barefootin’ it, but sports is not! Uneven surfaces, rocks and perhaps glass, and getting kicked or stomped-on spells bad news for little feet. Explain to your kids how it won’t be any fun to be stuck inside with an awkward cast or bandage because they were too busy to tie on shoes.

5. Prioritize safety during practices.

The AAP reports that 60 percent of all sports-related injuries occur during organized practices, so make sure you talk to your child about wearing proper protective gear at all times, and concentrating at practices just as much as during games.

6. Be aware of unsafe playing fields.

Dips, divots, holes, and uneven surfaces have “sprain” written all over them. Coaches may get busy with players and the nitty-gritty of strategy, so if possible, parents should take time to walk the field and report any potential issues.

7. Warm-ups and stretching are critical for safety.

Talk to your child about the threat of straining muscles. Light jogging, stretches, and warm-up exercises warm the body’s muscles and keep them flexible. Warming up also clears the mind, aids focus, and mentally prepares kids for the game.

8. Confirm that a first-aid kit will be accessible.

Again, coaches are often burdened with responsibility and details, so this is an area where parents can pitch in. Kids and sports are too dangerous a combo to ever be without a first-aid kit.

9. Hydration is important.

Hydration during both practices and games is critical, so go ahead and be the parent who always has an extra water bottle. Kids who are dehydrated are at risk for injury.

10. Seek immediate treatment for injuries.

Time is often of the essence where sports injuries are concerned. Even if the injury appears only to be an ankle sprain, see a doctor to avoid future problems such as instability or arthritis.

Help in a Hurry

For a sprain, strain, bruise, or muscle pull, first aid can help promote faster healing and prevent complications. Remember the acronym PRICE:
P for protection
R for rest
I  for ice
C for compression
E for elevation

Michele Ranard is a freelance writer, tutor, and professional counselor. She lives with her husband and two sons—all die-hard athletes.