Youth sports can provide children with several benefits. In addition to improved physical health, young athletes tend to experience less anxiety and depression, demonstrate more dedication and discipline, and higher levels of academic achievement. However, with these benefits can come a variety of risks, including being subjected to intense workouts, burnout, and even injuries. As a parent, it can be hard to know when to advocate for your young athlete and when to trust the coaches and trainers to do their job.
In this blog, we will discuss 4 ways how parents and caregivers can help protect the youth athletes in their lives.
Focus on Effort and Improvement Over Winning
A “win-at-all-costs” attitude can be harmful to youth athletes, especially when parents and coaches reinforce this attitude with intense coaching techniques or unrealistic goals. Instead, parents can support their children by helping them navigate the ups and downs of athletics. Win or lose, pointing out when they tried their best or demonstrated a new skill can boost self-esteem and provide motivation to persevere. Make sure the coach is on the same page and ensure that they have access to positive motivational strategies. The American Academy of Pediatrics has several articles about developmentally appropriate expectations for youth athletes that parents and coaches might find beneficial.
Avoid Specializing in a Single Sport Until Puberty
Overuse injuries can occur when the same motions are repeated too often. Children are more susceptible to them as their bones and muscles are still developing. Encouraging children to try a variety of sports and activities is a great strategy for preventing stress related injuries and can help mitigate burnout before it starts.
Additionally, advocating for your student athlete to try multiple sports can allow for an athletic movement transfer as well as a more organic off-season conditioning benefit. Kidsports.org explains that different sports can utilize similar movements and muscles, which allows for a transfer in abilities – such as jumping for a basketball engages the same muscles a swimmer uses to push off the starting block.
Encourage Regular Rest
Youth athletes should have plenty of time to rest both during the season and off-season. Otherwise, children are at risk for injuries and burnout. Children should be given at least one day of rest each week during the season, and at least a month off from organized sports activities every four to six months.
Additionally, our blog “Why are Rest Days Important” discusses how off-time for athletes can help them maintain motivation, promote muscle recovery, and reduce their risk of injury, all while also allowing them the space explore other passions beyond their sport.
Be Prepared with First Aid Know-How and a KiT
Not only should the coaches and/or trainers have knowledge of first aid and access to a first aid kit, but it’s a good idea for parents to keep one on the sidelines as well. Bandages, gauze, alcohol wipes, cold spray, and any wraps or braces can come in handy after practices and games - or even just for the bumps, bruises, and scrapes that happen in everyday life.
In addition to basic first aid, coaches and athletic trainers should also be ready with an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) to help ensure all personnel are prepared to provide immediate, appropriate medical care in the event of serious injuries. You can learn more about EAPs here.
With these tips, parents and coaches can help children reap the benefits of participating in sports while helping to mitigate the risks. With a supportive parent cheering them on from sidelines, a youth athlete can thrive on and off the field.