Contact sports and kids: What parents should know

How to keep your children safe during the season

Each year, more than 2.6 million children, age 19 years and younger, visit the emergency room for both recreation and sports-related injuries. Kids are at greater risk than adults for sports injuries because they’re still growing and developing.

The risk for injury is even greater if the child plays a contact sport, such as basketball, football or soccer, says Dr. Matthew Kornswiet, a sports medicine physician and pediatrician in the CHOC Primary Care Network.   

To help kids and teens prevent injury, Dr. Kornswiet says to make sure they follow these rules:

Wear protective gear

Make sure your children always be wearing the correct equipment for their sport before going onto the field or court. This may include pads, a helmet and a mouthguard. Frequently check equipment to make sure it is well fitting due to the use and continued growth of young athletes. If your child must wear eyeglasses while playing, they should be made of non-shattering glass to prevent eye injury.

Play by the rules

Different sports have specific safety rules like headings in soccer, headfirst slides in baseball and checking in hockey that change based on the age and level of the athletes involved. Check with your league and coaches to ensure these rules are followed correctly.

Create a safe playing field

Before your child begins to play, officials and coaches should make sure that the field or court is free of debris, holes, and other potential hazards. If the game is at night, the venue should be well lit.

Don’t overplay 

Kids should take breaks often during sports to prevent overuse injuries such as growth plate injuries and stress fractures. Recommendations by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) include taking at least 1-2 days off per week from sports and taking 3 months off of sports (in 1-month increments) each year to prevent injury.

The hours of sports your child plays per week should be less than their age in years. For example, a 10-year-old should have no more than 10 hours of sports per week. Ensure your child has eight hours of sleep or more per night too.

Consider other health conditions

Children with certain conditions, like irregular heart rhythms and bleeding disorders, may not be suited for contact sports. A preseason physical is recommended to rule out any conditions that may limit your child’s ability to participate in sports.

Warm up and tone up

Young athletes should stretch before and after every practice and game. Your child’s training focus should be on the quality of movements over the quantity of movements. Repetitive motions can put an athlete at more risk for injuries. Taking the time and learning proper techniques are important in preventing injuries in the future.

Prevent hot-weather injury

When playing outdoor sports during warmer months, make sure your child stays hydrated by drinking fluids before, during and after each game or match. Kids and teens should take a water break every 20 minutes. During extremely hot and humid conditions, it may be necessary to reduce or stop practices.

Group kids by size 

Kids are less likely to be injured in a contact sport if they’re playing with opponents who are their similar size and skill level. Encourage your child’s coach to group players based on ability and size instead of by age. If this isn’t possible, the game should be modified to accommodate beginners or smaller players.

Recognize the signs of an injury

Quick treatment of a contact sports injury can prevent it from becoming more severe or causing permanent damage. Seek prompt medical treatment if your child experiences any swelling, pain over a small area, is limping, has pain that lasts when they are not playing sports or has any pain greater than a four on a scale of 10. Children should never be encouraged to play through pain.

Head injuries

Any athlete who has signs of a head injury or concussion should not return to sports until they are cleared by their physician. There is no situation that an athlete with a headache, dizziness or altered behavior should return to sports the same day as their injury.

Don’t rush back after injury

As a general rule, young athletes should have a full range of motion and no pain or swelling in the affected area before returning to sports. If your child suffers an injury, contact a sports medicine physician or your pediatrician to help them safely return to their activities.

We are excited to offer the Pfizer BioNTech pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for children and teens. To receive a vaccine, contact your CHOC primary care pediatrician to make an appointment.


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