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How can kids avoid sports injuries?
Q: I coach my 5-year-old son’s soccer team. My friends and I grew up playing soccer, and we all got injured. Are there any recommendations for making sports safer for kids?
Arturo Los Angeles
A: Arturo, it’s great that you and your son share the love of soccer. Playing sports helps children stay physically fit, learn to follow rules, have self-discipline, cooperate with other children and adults and feel good about themselves. Your son will also feel proud that his dad took the time to coach his team.

However, many children get injured playing sports. In general, sports with higher contact, such as soccer and football, tend to cause more injuries. Although most are minor bruises and scrapes, children can also experience concussions, broken bones and torn ligaments, tendons and cartilage.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following guidelines for reducing sports injuries among children:
  • Wear the right gear. Players should wear protective equipment appropriate for their sport.

  • Avoid heat injury. Make sure children wear light clothing and drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise or play. Shorten or stop practices and games during periods of high heat and humidity.

  • Workout regularly to strengthen muscles and increase flexibility. During practices and before and after games, have the children do plenty of conditioning and stretching exercises to prepare for playing.

  • Use proper technique and play safely. Teach proper techniques and rules and consistently reinforce these during practices and games. Don’t allow “dirty” play.

  • Take regular breaks. Schedule periods for resting and drinking water during practices and games.

  • Stop the activity if there is pain. The old expression, “no pain no gain” isn’t healthy for children. Pain is the body’s sign that an injury is occurring and the child needs rest, ice applied to the injury and medical attention if the pain persists.

  • Avoid emotional stress. When parents and coaches pressure children to perform and win, it can make them feel stressed and inferior. Instead, encourage and praise them for effort, sportsmanship and improving their skills.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician