5 Steps to Keeping Young Athletes Injury-Free


It’s a question that bedevils virtually every parent with a kid who plays sports: Is there anything you can do to keep your young athlete on the field and off the disabled list?

It turns out the answer is yes. Tony Breitbach, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of athletic training education at Saint Louis University’s Doisy College of Health Sciences, says there are five things every parent can do to help their kids stay healthy and injury-free while playing sports this summer.

“These are important, common-sense steps that many parents overlook or aren’t aware of,” Breitbach says. “But as summer approaches, it’s more important than ever that parents be aware of the steps they can take to make the coming sports season fun, healthy and injury-free for their kids.”

Following are Breitbach’s five tips for helping your young athlete avoid injury:

#1: Make sure equipment fits properly. Kids generally grow fast, which means the gear that fit perfectly last year may be too small now.

“Ill-fitting shoes can be an especially big problem,” says Breitbach. “Last summer’s baseball cleats will likely not be right for this summer.” Protective equipment, in particular, must fit properly and be appropriate for the sport, he adds. “If it doesn’t fit, it won’t protect.”

#2: Watch their diet. To stay healthy while playing sports, kids need to eat a proper and balanced diet – low in fat, with moderate amounts of lean protein and high in complex carbohydrates. Athletes need lots of the latter – what Breitbach calls “high-energy foods” – right before and after a game or workout.

For athletes, Breitbach says, a key part of a proper diet is staying well-hydrated during and after a big game. “People place way too much emphasis on energy and sports drinks, when good cool water will do just fine – and it’s even preferable in most cases.”

He urges that you make sure your child has enough water for the particular sport or activity. “Don’t give him a bottle of water for a long game,” Breitbach says. “In that case, a jug would be better.”

#3: Keep them well-rested …and not overbooked. The right amount of sleep and rest is critical to simply function day to day. Athletes also need it to help them recover from the stress or exertion of their game or activity. This is particularly true for kids who play multiple sports – sometimes in the same day, Breitbach says.

“Parents need to be really careful about overscheduling their kids,” he says. “They need as much time as possible between games so their bodies can rest and recover.”

#4: Help them stay physically fit. In general, Breitbach says, the more fit someone is, the less likely they are to be injured playing sports. The best way to keep your kid in shape is to never let him or her get out of shape. Make sure they’re active all year-round, and don’t rely on sports to keep your kid fit.

Furthermore, Breitbach cautions, don’t sign your child up for a sport just so he or she can lose weight.

“They need to love the sport,” he says. “The truth is, lots of sports aren’t conducive to weight loss anyway – in baseball, for instance, there’s a lot of standing around. If your kid needs to lose weight, put him on a healthy diet and join a fitness center where there are personalized fitness programs.”

#5: Take care of injuries right away. Listen to your kid’s body, Breitbach says. Take scrapes, pains and aches seriously – and if your child is hurt, make sure the injury gets immediate medical attention.

“Even something as simple as a scrape needs attention,” Breitbach says. “Scrapes need to be cleaned and covered up to avoid infections, such as a staph infection that’s resistant to antibiotics.”

Finally, if your child’s been injured, make sure that the play-or-no-play decision is made by a medical professional. “They’re really the ones who are qualified to make that call – a parent or youth coach isn’t,” Breitbach says.

Long a leader in educating health professionals, Saint Louis University offered its first degree in an allied health profession in 1929. Today the Doisy College of Health Sciences offers degrees in physical therapy, clinical laboratory science, nutrition and dietetics, health informatics and information management, medical imaging and radiation therapeutics, occupational science and occupational therapy, and physician assistant education. The college’s unique curriculum prepares students to work with health professionals from all disciplines to ensure the best possible patient care.