A Parent’s Guide to Youth Sports

Grab the baseball bat, goggles and soccer ball — the spring/summer sport season is here.Signing up your child for a little league team can be intimidating, especially for someone with no intramural experience. For those wondering what to expect and how to keep their kids safe, coaches and physical therapists have the answers.Change up the sports: Most of the injuries Rich Harris, director of sports performance at Cumberland Physical Therapy and Dr. Matthew Kelly, orthopedic surgeon at the Orthopedic Institute of Pennsylvania, encounter are because of overuse of certain muscles. This can be prevented by rotating sports throughout the year. So instead of playing baseball every day for an entire year, take at least one season off.Encourage stretching: “The worst thing [kids] can do is to go from doing nothing to doing their sport,” Harris said. Be sure your child is stretching before practice kicks into gear, or before a game to ensure she is warmed up and ready to go.Prepare for the season: For the more serious child athletes, consider prepping for the sport before league sign-ups. Harris recommends doing strength and flexibility training three months before the sporting season begins. The more physically fit children are, the less risk they run of hurting themselves while playing.Consider weight training: This is only for those ages 8 and older, and only to be done with caution. Kids should not be lifting too much weights, and never to the point of being exhausted. “They should be focusing more on technique, on how the lifts are done,” Harris said.Focus on agility: One of the most important areas for kids to focus on is agility and dexterity, Kelly and Harris said. Kids between ages 8 and 12 are not in control of their body movement as much as teens and adults, Harris said. “The better their agility, the better their body control, the better they’ll perform,” he said. In edition to better performance, being more agile can prevent injuries, especially ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) ones, Kelly said.Choose a technique-based program: “Kids should be taught the sport properly,” Kelly said. “If a person is taught to swim a stroke properly or throw a baseball properly there is less of a chance of them having an injury.”Don’t wear them out: While your child might seem like an inexhaustible bundle of energy, truth is that he tires out, too. Children should never get totally exhausted while playing a sport. Once they are fatigued they run more of a risk of getting injured, Harris said.
What to expectTechnique training: Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are good athletes. A lot of practices will be devoted to learning simple techniques, especially for those just starting a sport. Rusty Owens, swim teacher at Colonial Golf and Tennis Club and International Swimming Hall of Fame award winner, spends many practices just teaching kids proper strokes and breathing techniques, which might seem tedious for parents who just want to see their kid racing around a pool.Exercises in patience: Kids don’t have the longest attention span and so chances are they will not be fully focused during the big game. “Parents can expect to see them dig in the dirt, picking the dandelions,” Rob Shaffner, president of the Susquehanna Twp. Baseball Association, said. The coach and their volunteers will be doing their best to have them pay attention, but sometimes it can be a losing battle.Investments in equipment: Many local leagues try to make the sport as inexpensive as possible but be prepared to pay for necessities. Susquehanna Twp. Baseball Association provides a jersey for the athletes but parents are expected to purchase a glove. When it comes to swimming, Owens asks his students to have non-baggy swim suits and good goggles.Position rotations: Intramural sports and little leagues are all about providing new experiences for kids. So don’t expect your young child to have an exclusive position. “Johnny may be first base in the first inning, but left field in the second,” Shaffner said. “That gets them to know the other positions.” As children get older they will become more specialized. But when they start out, it’s all about trying every position out.Time spent at practices: This is especially true with younger children. Shaffner prefers parents to be at practices rather than simply dropping their children off. That’s because practices vary on end times (Shaffner bases it on the child’s energy levels and focus abilities). But the important thing is to be there if a child is hurt. “If a player gets injured they’re looking for their parents,” Shaffner said.Lots of fun: As cheesy as it sounds, fun is the name of the game when it comes to kid sports. “The kids have to have fun,” Owens said. “They have to want to go to practice, especially young kids. I want them to be happy.”
Story ContributorsRich Harris, director of sports performance at Cumberland Physical Therapy.Matthew Kelly, orthopedic surgeon at the Orthopedic Institute of Pennsylvania.Rusty Owens, swim teacher at Colonial Golf and Tennis Club and International Swimming Hall of Fame award winner.Rob Shaffer, president of the Susquehanna Twp. Basball Association.

Last Updated on 04/16/2020 by OIP

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