Whether your child is getting into sports for the first time, your college student is a star athlete or you play in a summer softball league, it’s important to know how to play it safe.
Sports safety should be a top priority for all involved in athletics from parents to coaches to players. Everyone has a responsibility to make sure that athletes are protected.
Before heading to practice
While it’s required for student-athletes to get a physical exam before heading to the field, adults often skip the doctor’s visit. But everyone should get checked out to make sure there are no underlying heart, lung, or neurological conditions that could be aggravated with the exertion that sports require. And with COVID-19, it’s a good idea to be tested before potentially exposing your teammates.
When your sport involves playing outside, the heat is going to be a factor in how well you play. You can build your stamina by taking the time to acclimate to the heat before practices start. Start spending more time outside each day, breaking occasionally to rest in the shade and drinking plenty of water.
Good nutrition is also a key factor in performance. You’ll have the most benefit by observing healthy eating habits year-round, not just when your sport is in season. And because dehydration is an issue in the summer, choose foods that have high water content to help you stay hydrated.
Be sure that you have the right gear and that it fits well. It’s easy to borrow someone else’s cap or protective padding but if they aren’t the right size, you could be putting yourself at risk for injury. Poorly fitting gear slides around or comes off at key moments exposing your body to the potential hits from game balls, bats, or other players.
On the field
Always take time to stretch and warm-up before taking on any physical activity. This is the best way to avoid getting hurt during the main event whether you’re running, playing soccer, or enjoying a game of golf. By taking the time to condition your body (by working out) and increase your flexibility (through stretching), you’ll enhance your performance on the field and protect the body from potential injury.
If at any time you feel pain, stop playing immediately. Whether the pain is in your joints or you get hit in the head don’t attempt to play through the pain. Continuing to play can often result in greater damage to your body. It’s always safer to assess the potential injury than to keep playing and find out later you’ve got a fracture or pulled a tendon. And if the injury involves the head, be sure to follow concussion assessment protocols.
Some young athletes will try to continue even if they are in pain because they don’t want to be pulled from the game. If you’re the parent of an athlete, remind them to speak up anytime they don’t feel well. All adults should strive to be good role models and communicate positive safety messages that will encourage athletes to speak up for themselves and others on and off the field.
Take plenty of breaks, drink water, and avoid practicing in the midday sun. Most sports take place in the sun, so you’ll need to be sure to take breaks in the shade where it’s cooler. Athletes can easily get heat exhaustion, heatstroke, cramps, and dehydration when playing in hot and humid conditions. Be prepared by knowing the symptoms and early warning signs:
- Heavy sweating
- Fast, weak pulse
- Dizziness or fainting
- Nausea or vomiting
- Tiredness or weakness and
- Cold, pale, clammy skin
Athletes playing in extremely hot or humid conditions must be monitored, and care must be taken at the first signs of illness.
Every team should have an emergency action plan in place well before the season starts. The plan should include a list of players, emergency contacts, and any medical issues or allergies. There should be a designated coach or parent who is responsible for making sure all first aid supplies are stocked and available. And someone should be designated to take the lead if a player is hurt or shows signs of illness.
The emergency action plan should also include plans for severe weather. If there is a tornado warning or sudden thunderstorm, there should be a plan in place to protect the athletes whether that is following the posted directions of the facility or having a team directive.
With the coronavirus making the rounds, there are a number of actions that sports organizations can take to help prevent the spread of illness between players, coaches, and staff. At a minimum, it is important to implement strategies that will keep everyone healthy including hand washing, distancing, and wearing masks whenever possible. Spectators, participants and coaches should stay home if not feeling well. The CDC has resources to help guide organizations in setting up policies to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
With summer sports comes increased risk of injury. It’s important to be aware of the potential dangers, prepare in advance and warm up before taking the field. It’s all about staying safe while you’re having fun.