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Publication Date: Friday, March 08, 2002

Play Safe Play Safe (March 08, 2002)

ByDiana Reynolds Roome

With spring sports underway, thousands of kids are preparing to pour on to the local fields and courts to play. Gregg Cowan, Mountain View Little League Baseball's registrar, reports that enrollment is up substantially this year.

Organized sports are the best antidote to inactivity and overweight in children, and lead to healthy habits and away from the doctors' office. Right?

It's true that for most players the possibility of injury is the last thing on their minds. Serious injuries in sports are rare. Emergency services were called out to only three or four youth sports emergencies in total last year, according to Lynn Brown, public information officer for Mountain View Fire Department.

But even lesser injuries can ruin a season, or worse. Health risks vary from sprains and broken bones to concussion ands difficulty breathing. None are fun, but many can be prevented by education and forethought.

"The basic principles of safety cut across all sports, from soccer to water-skiing," says Deepa Arora, PR manager for the Palo Alto Red Cross, which offers a variety of safety courses for children and adults, including coaches. "Emergencies happen because of lack of awareness."

Basic principles are encapsulated in the Red Cross slogan: Check (for present dangers), Call (for help), Care (follow through for injured person).

For children, the sense of knowing how to cope with an injury _ even a minor one like a nosebleed _ is empowering. "It helps them stay calm, get the help they need and help another child without putting themselves in jeopardy," says Holmes.

For the adults involved, a higher level of training might be expected. But although first aid certification and CPR training are mandatory for high school level coaches, they are still not necessary for volunteer coaches working with younger children.

Many approach questions of safety from the commonsense point of view. Though this can go a long way, it is important for parents and coaches both to increase their own awareness, and talk to children of all ages about safety issues. Training should start early when younger children are at their most teachable.
@Teaching the basics of safety

"If adults discuss thoughtful attitudes about safety, children will carry those things through into their own behavior," says Marina Holmes, interim health and safety services director for the Red Cross Palo Alto, who coached her son's soccer team from the age of 6.

"They'll know, for example, that it's unsafe to run with something in their mouths. Hot weather carries a risk of heatstroke, so it is important to keep hydrated at all times. They also learn that they shouldn't slide into another player in soccer."

Young children usually listen to their parents above all others, but past a certain age they can tune parents out, making the coach king. For this reason, it's vital for both to be involved and articulate about safety awareness.

According to Jim Adam, a longtime coach for AYSO and CYSA soccer as well as YMCA basketball, ignorance is not the only cause of unsafe behavior.

"Pushing children to use techniques that are beyond their skill level is a major cause of injury," says Adam, who has also been sports guide to his own three children.

"When expectations are set too high, and you ask a kid to try and achieve something that isn't attainable, it's like making an 11-year-old take an SAT. I see kids almost in panic mode when they're not achieving what they think they're supposed to." Most unsafe play, he adds, arises from poor technique, and trying to overcompensate for that.

For this reason, Adams feels it's important for parents to be supportive but undemanding, especially during a game. "Never yell after a kid has taken a shot and missed, but always encourage. Parents need to be their child's advocate, not their trainer."

Though aggressiveness is desirable in sports, it shouldn't be allowed to get out of hand, either on or off the field. "Safe behavior is part of citizenship. Unsafe behavior in sports, as in the street, is most likely to lead to injury to oneself," says Adam.

This is particularly important once young players, particularly boys, reach the critical ages of 13 and 14, when growth spurts and testosterone give them more strength and power than they realize. This is all the more reason why high school level PE should always include some instruction on sports safety and diagnosis and immediate care of injuries and hurts _ for example, warm and cold packs, as appropriate.
Being prepared

The grueling schedule that many children face can lead not only to injuries during games, but also to long-term injury. Muscles, tendons and cartilage that are still forming are more vulnerable to overuse and stress. Girls, too, now show some of the same injuries as boys because they participate in many of the same sports. In baseball, children sometimes exhibit elbow and shoulder strains; in soccer and basketball the knees, feet and ankles can suffer. In football impact injuries are higher on the list of likely problems.

"Constantly practicing an overhand baseball throw could definitely lead to injury in a nine-year- old, though it's not common," says Richard Sandor, M.D., sports and orthopedic specialist at the Camino Group in Sunnyvale. "Parents need to be attentive to any pain or dysfunction [especially in a joint]. However, on occasion it doesn't really hurt until there's permanent damage. Injuries can sneak up on you."

Adam believes that coaches and parents should take "a quick poll of what hurts" before and after practice, in order to keep track of recurring problems.

"Parents wouldn't think twice about asking how their child did in school each day, and this should happen after each practice, too," he says. "This short but important conversation helps to create a situation where the child athlete is aware of their body and understands the importance of maintaining their health."

Both parents and children can benefit from taking a short first aid and safety training class, which stands them in good stead in any situation. For adults, having CPR training could make the difference between life and death. "If you only use it once in 20 years, " says Arora, "it's worth all the training."

It's obviously up to parents to check that children with asthma or other conditions take their medications before a practice or game, and carry sprays or other necessary items. They should also make sure that coach knows about the condition and clearly understands symptoms and how to deal with them when they appear. The same goes for safety equipment, such as providing and enforcing the wearing of shin guards, mouth guards and helmets, where appropriate.

For young children it's helpful if a few parents can arrange to stay to help the coach at practices, says Holmes. This way, if a child needs help with safety equipment or scrapes a knee, the game can go on. Though it seems commonsense for coaches to carry a first aid kit, ice and bandages, it isn't always the case, so a parent might plan ahead to supply these. They should also be prepared to supply reassurance and shrewd assessment of any physical problem.

"It's important to differentiate between injury and hurt," says Adam. "Kids under 13 or 14 are seldom injured, but are in constant danger of hurting themselves."

Though athletic injuries in children are on the increase, especially among older children, organized sports still produce half the number of injuries that occur in unsupervised play. According to Dr. Sandor, the health benefits of playing sports far outweigh the hazards. "The majority of children who do not get much exercise are getting fatter and lazier, and that will have a much bigger [negative] impact on their health in the long run."
Red Cross can provide safety training for any group or organiation. Call 688-0433
Saturday March 9, Free CPR Training for adults, Community Center, Rengstorff, Mountain View. Call 940-1333 registration by Friday 12 noon Thursday March 16, First Aid and Safety Training for Kids, 400 Mitchell Lane, Palo Alto, $20 Friday March 15, May 23, 3.30-6 p.m. When I am in Charge (ages 9-12) In Fall, there is a Sports Safety Course for Coaches, details to be announced. For more information, call 650-688-0415.


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