After a long, cold polar vortex of a winter, parents are no-doubt ready to swap snow and ice for green grass again. And that goes double for our children.
Yes, it’s time for spring, and that means that spring sports season is beginning, too. But before you hand your kids a lacrosse stick or soccer ball and push them out the front door, read this guide to ensure your child will have a safe, enjoyable spring sports season.
1. Is your child really ready?
You might be eager to put your preschooler in shin guards, but is he really ready to play a team sport? “Knowing your child is the first important step,” says Kate Carr, CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide.
Consider whether your child can follow basic directions, for example, or if your she’s potty trained. If you suspect she might not be ready, it’s likely better to sit one more season out.
2. Strike a balance.
Think about how the sport will fit into your child’s schedule. And don’t discount the impact of her other commitments—especially school—and the demands that the increased activity will put on your whole family, cautions Michael Bergeron, Ph.D., executive director of the National Sports Health and Safety Institute.
“As long as you’re thinking about sports, you have to think about your child and the whole schedule,” he says. “You have to balance all that.”
3. Get a check-up.
Many high school sports programs require that athletes get a physical prior to playing. Verify with your child’s coach if you need to schedule an appointment with the pediatrician for your son or daughter to get checked out for any health issues that could cause problems.
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4. Encourage preparation.
Especially if your child has been relatively sedentary all winter long, it’s a good idea to encourage some physical activity prior to starting the new season. With older children, find out if their coach recommends any particular conditioning activities to prepare for the upcoming season. You can help children of any age begin to become more active by encouraging them to go outside and walk or run around—or better yet, join them! Take a few minutes each day to do some simple stretching exercises together, too. “Build up a fun little routine with your child,” suggests Carr. “It’s great for your child, and it’s also good for you.”
5. Consider other sports.
Overuse injuries are increasingly becoming problematic in youth who are so dedicated to one sport that they don’t give themselves any time off.
“It’s so important to have an off season from your favorite sport,” Carr says. “That means a break of about 10-12 weeks.”
The extended break gives the body time to rest and heal. So if your child is playing, say, baseball or soccer year-round, it might be time to encourage him to take some time off and give another a sport a try for a season. That gives him the chance to learn some new skills, which actually enhances their overall athletic development, Bergeron says. It might even help them enjoy their favorite sport longer.
“If you go too hard too early, the risk of injury is greater, and it’s not fun anymore and they burn out,” he says.
6. Don’t bail.
So your child isn’t a superstar on the playing field. That’s okay. Don’t pull your child out of a sport—or not sign him up to play at all—just because he’s not the best player on the team. Think long term, Bergeron advises. Remember that the main reasons that most children should be playing sports are to have fun and to get some exercise—and maybe learn a few skills.
In the end, Bergeron encourages parents to remember the cardinal kids’ sports rule: “Keep it fun.”