As the winter chill begins to thaw, kids may be anxious to get back to outdoor sports. And while you may have dreams of your son playing baseball or your daughter dominating the soccer field, it’s important to expose kids to a variety of sports as they grow and follow their likes and strengths when choosing sports activities.
But no matter which activity they choose, these 9 important ground rules will help them get back in the game after an off-season:
- Get a pre-season evaluation. Whether you’re signing up a 4-year-old for a pee-wee league or your high schooler is joining the varsity lacrosse team, scheduling a pre-participation exam with the child’s pediatrician is critical—even if it isn’t required by the school or league. A doctor can detect vision issues, joint problems, elevated blood pressure or other concerns that could prevent your child from playing their best and identify any long-term risks.
- Take it slow. Ideally, children should be physically active throughout the year and not only in the spring and summer months. Train off-season indoors or with another sport so your child remains active. If you weren’t able to do that over the winter, encourage your child to start slowly and gradually work up to their full potential. And make sure your child stretches before and after games and practices to prevent injury.
- Wear the right gear. Whether they’re riding bikes in the back yard or suiting up for a big game, all kids should protect their bodies with the appropriate gear. Get all equipment properly sized before season starts, including shoulder pads, cups, helmets and shin guards. And consider sports glasses if your child needs vision assistance and sports goggles if there’s a risk of eye damage.
- Don’t forget sunscreen. Even when it’s cloudy outside, the sun’s rays can damage kids’ skin. Apply sunscreen liberally about 30 minutes before play/swim and reapply frequently. Wearing hats, long sleeve cotton shirts and playing in shaded areas can also provide protection.
- Choose the right fuel. Food is fuel. Fruits and vegetables provide important vitamins and minerals that are necessary for proper growth and development. Lean protein is essential for building muscles. Both kids and adults need carbohydrates for endurance. While there are no “bad foods”—everything can and should be enjoyed in moderation—eating processed and sugary foods on a regular basis can affect your performance.
- Take time to warm up and cool down. Before and after participating in a sporting activity (whether a practice or a game), children should take a 5- to 10-minute walk or jog. Then, stretch out the targeted muscle groups to release tension. Warm-ups gradually increase blood flow to the muscles and increase body temperature before exercise. Cool downs allow your heart rate and blood pressure to slow down and return to normal. Both are critical to preventing muscle soreness and injury.
- Stay hydrated. Kids overheat more quickly than adults. In fact, according to some estimates, a child can lose up to 1 quart of sweat during 2 hours of exercise. To avoid consequences ranging from fatigue to heat stroke, make sure your child drinks plenty of water 1 to 2 hours before starting an activity and sips on small amounts every 12 to 20 minutes during the activity. While water or water infusions are best, if a child is exercising for more than 1 hour, sports drinks are a solid alternative since they contain additional carbohydrates for energy and electrolytes that can replenish your body after exercise.
- Beware of injury. Never let your child “play through” an injury. Sometimes time off is needed for adequate rest and healing. Time off can also help strengthen an area that has been repeatedly injured. Teens, especially, should know the signs of a concussion (blurry or double vision, seeing stars, nausea and sensitivity to light, among others), and they should understand the risks of playing with concussion symptoms.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep allows our bodies to refuel and have the necessary energy for the next day. Sleep recommendations vary based on your child’s age—and children may need more or less sleep depending on the amount of activity they are participating in:
- 3 to 6 year olds: 10 to 12 hours
- 7 to 12 year olds: 10 to 11 hours
- 12 to 18 year olds: 8 to 9 hours
Encouraging your child to choose a sport and participate can have a lifelong impact. Participating in sports teaches kids important life skills during a critical development window. It also presents an opportunity for kids to develop leadership and self-esteem. Count on these additional lessons, too:
- The importance of doing your best
- How to handle loss
- How to be a good sportsman
- Good communication
- How to prepare for success
- Time management
For more wellness resources you can share with your child, download our app – 5-2-1-0 Kids! It’s a fun way for kids to learn the importance of healthy habits.