Parents are naturally concerned about the health and safety of their children, and that's especially true when their children are athletes. With nearly 7 million high school students participating in sports today, there are a reported 715,000 high school sports-related injuries experienced each year, and 8,000 children are treated in emergency rooms each day for sports-related injuries.1

To reduce the risk of injury, the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) offers a number of suggestions for parents, coaches, administrators and athletes to ensure a safe and healthy environment.

"Sports injuries are a problem at any age, but kids playing increasingly competitive sports in school are especially at risk," said Brian Robinson, ATC, chair of NATA's secondary school committee. "Educating parents and school personnel about ways to help children avoid common sports-related injuries is a top priority. March is National Athletic Training Month with the theme of Sports Safety is a Team Effort, making this information all the more timely."*1

What Parents Can Do to Keep Their Kids Safe While Participating in Sports

In addition to providing direction for teachers, coaches, athletic trainers and other school personnel, the guidelines offer important information for parents who want to keep their kids as safe as possible. Before children participate in organized sports, NATA recommends that parents take the following actions:

1. Assess the financial and time impact on your family - In the excitement of having your child participate in organized sports, the family must consider the family commitment required. If not prepared, the time and financial commitment can lead to increased stress on the family making a positive sports experience a negative one.

2. Determine if your children are physically and mentally "in shape" - Parents, with assistance from coaches, should determine whether their children are physically and psychologically conditioned for the sport/activity level they're playing. Do not push children into something they do not want to do.

*1 Wier, L. (Thomson Reuters), Miller, A. (Student), and Steiner, C. (AHRQ). Sports Injuries in Children Requiring Hospital Emergency Care, 2006. HCUP Statistical Brief #75. June 2009.

3. Have your children obtain a physical examination - All children should receive both a general medical exam and an orthopedic screening, which will determine their readiness to play and uncover any condition that may limit participation.

4. Find out who's taking care of your kids - In the case of injury, find out who will provide care and ask to review their credentials. Many schools and sports teams rely on athletic trainers or parents with medical and first aid training and certification to keep kids safe. Yet less than half of high schools have access to athletic trainers.

5. Provide coaches with your child's medical history - Parents should complete an emergency medical authorization form, providing parent contact information and permission for emergency medical care for their children. Check with your school/league to obtain the form.

6. Make sure your children are eating and drinking to win - Parents should ensure their children are eating a healthy, balanced diet. Without proper nutrition and hydration, young athletes will feel sluggish, which can increase their chance of injury. Improper hydration also increases the risk of heat illness.

7. Ascertain coaches' qualifications - A background check should always be performed on coaches and volunteers before they are allowed to work with children, and parents should ensure the following guidelines are followed:

- Coaches should have background and knowledge in the sport they are coaching. They should be credentialed if that is a requirement in the state, conference or league.

- All coaches should have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), automated external defibrillator (AED) and first aid training.

- Coaches should strictly enforce the sports rules and have a plan for dealing with emergencies.

8. Ask if the school/league has an emergency action plan - Every team should have a written emergency action plan, reviewed by the athletic trainer or local Emergency Medical Service. Individual assignments and emergency equipment and supplies need to be included in the emergency action plan. If an athletic trainer is not employed by the school or sport league, qualified individuals need to be present to render care. Knowing that a school has prepared for emergency will give parents peace of mind.

"Providing coaches, teachers, athletic trainers, and others with important information is a key focus of our education efforts, but parental involvement is probably the most crucial step in ensuring that child athletes remain safe and injury-free," Robinson notes.

In conjunction with the North American Booster Club Association, NATA prepared an online "Sports Safety Checklist," available here.

National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA)

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