As a parent, my number one job at all times is to make sure my children are safe. Period.
When they’re young, what we’re looking for as parents is a piece of cake: things like shouting “Look both ways!” as they get ready to cross the street. Or, “have you washed your hands?” before dinner. But, as our children turn into young adults with their physical abilities developing at lightning speed, it can become less obvious to know what to do, say, or ask when you sense *something’s* not right.
At the youth levels (under age 15, especially), coaches are almost always under supported, so waiting on the coach or a member of the medical staff (ha, the team doesn’t have that - you’re it!) to make the call or assessment is likely inefficient.
Before I dive into my tips, please be sure to take the time to take and/or maintain a current CPR/First Aid course. This is a crucial step helping to identify and respond to emergencies. Having as many people around sporting competitions who are trained in these areas is extremely important and falls under the “it takes a village” category.
Let’s Get to It
Alright, to help with spotting signs of trouble early, below is a field guide of sorts based on the information I’ve gathered over the years. Injury and potential for injury is something that I’ve spent countless hours and many years cataloging as I watched thousands of practices and competitions.
Here’s the thing I want to get across: I’ve learned to greatly appreciate how important it is to put the health of the athlete’s body over all else. As a parent, I’m sure you agree and want you to know that you can and should help.
You may read some of my below recommendations and think: there’s no way my kid is going to get taken out of practice simply because of X, Y, or Z. But, if the consequence of NOT taking action is life altering pain or surgery, would it be worth it?
Here are five things to look out for:
Trust your gut. No one knows how your child moves, feels, and responds to questions better than you. If something feels off, you should investigate further.
Discuss the realities of injury with your child at a time outside of practice/competition. Explain that your main goal is to keep them safe/healthy and if you notice something you want to know more about that you may pull them aside to find out more. Setting expectations ahead of time can go a long way “in the moment” when they don’t want to answer your questions.
Watch locomotor patterns: this is a big one! If your child’s gait becomes visibly abnormal and doesn’t smooth back out after a few minutes, you will need to find out what’s going on. A stride with a visible limp or another compensatory pattern of some kind (leaning to one side, for example) must be addressed.
Possible causes to consider: previous injury, strained muscle(s), stress fracture, growth, stress reaction
If your child is coming back from muscle strain or another known injury, just a brief check in to find out how they’re doing and then reverting to the action plan, as needed
If there is no known injury, ask questions and use your best judgement.
If your child is able to normalize their gait within a few minutes, make a mental note and follow-up afterwards.
Repeatedly grabbing a body part after movement: you usually see athletes do this who are working through some kind of discomfort (ex, pitchers and their shoulders or elbows). Use this as a trigger to ask questions.
It is worthwhile to find out where the discomfort is coming from: joint, muscle, or something internal? As this will give you insight on any subsequent actions that need to be taken.
Young athletes will often give a response indicating they’re “working it out” or “a little tight”. From experience, I can tell you that something at least slightly more significant is underlying those answers. Root causes often harken back to a strength deficit and/or overuse.
Head impact: this could be a fall to the ground or an impact with another player or object. Head injury should be taken very seriously and always err on the side of caution. If your child was knocked unconscious, seems disoriented, or vomits as a result they need to be removed from practice/competition and evaluated by medical personnel.
A couple other tips to help your kids succeed: keep an eye on hydration (all sports) and temperature (outdoor sports) - climate change is real and exposure to extended periods of extreme heat should be considered and planned for; check out the warm-up - a thorough warm-up is important to reduce injury; have the proper equipment - you don’t have to buy the most expensive options, just be sure shoes, clothing, gloves, etc fit well.
This is a light list of what to watch out for, but in my experience these cover the majority of trouble areas for most sporting activities. If you are a parent reading this, I hope that you feel encouraged and supported to raise the red flag when things are off. Just remember to trust your gut and ask questions.
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Thank you! SAPT