Many student athletes take a break over summer vacation, but once fall sports tryouts, practices, and games kick off, both athletes and parents need to be aware of injury and heat-related risks.
With “fall” sports practices beginning as early as August, Dr. Alex Diamond, head of the Program for Injury Prevention in Youth Sports at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, said it’s especially important that student athletes stay hydrated before, during and after sports activity.
“Heat illness and heat injury are something we definitely see here in the South. It is deadly and it is 100% preventable.” After summer hours spent indoors in an air-conditioned environment, it’s very important for athletes to adjust to exercising outdoors. “Get back to reclimatizing…adjust to outdoors and sports equipment. Climatize yourself to the heat and exercising outdoors slowly and gradually.”
Diamond says it’s important for young athletes to start conditioning several weeks before the season starts to avoid fall youth sports injuries. “We see a lot of injuries early in the school year for that reason. Kids don’t do anything all summer long and they jump right back into it. Coaches may have the mentality to push and get everyone back in shape, which can sometimes result in stress fractures and doing things too soon too fast. Start about 6 weeks before your season and build yourself back into strength and conditioning status is important. Over summer try to maintain some of the conditioning and strength you have.”
Several weeks prior to the first day of school is also the optimum time to schedule a sports physical, rather than waiting until the last minute.
Although it’s important for student athletes to take a break over the summer, that doesn’t mean taking a complete hiatus from physical activity, Diamond said, but, rather, it should serve as an opportunity to cross train.
“Summer is also a great time to cross train play another sport because it offers both a mental and physical break from your main sports activity.”
On the other end of the spectrum, athletes can overtrain. “More than half of all injuries are overuse related. So we actually encourage kids to take a break from their organized sports injuries.”
Student athletes aren’t the only ones susceptible to heat or overuse injuries. Diamond says that he and his staff also see an increase in marching band injuries this time of year, such as stress fractures and heat illness. “Performing artists take a break over the summer and then when practices resume they suddenly go out 8 to 10 hours practicing in the sun and heat,” Diamond says, making them just as susceptible to injury as athletes.
Can a student athlete play too many sports? Most definitely, Diamond says. “We see people play year round on multiple teams and what typically happens is breakdown in muscles, bones, and tendons. If you don’t ever allow for any time to recovery that leads to injury and time out to sports.” That’s why cross-training and taking time off from the primary sport is critical, Diamond says. In addition to the physical factor, there is a mental factor as well. About 60 to 70 percent of kids drop out of organized sports due to burnout.
Lastly, Diamond reminds us that the parent, kid and coach relationship can be one of the best experiences a student athlete can have and he encourages parents to be involved in the entire process. “Supporting your child and making sure they are involved in sports that they enjoy and helping them stay healthy and have a positive experience is very important.”
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Jamie Reeves is a Nashville-based writer, editor, and lover of all things social media. She and her husband Alan have two daughters, two dogs, and too much laundry. This busy soccer mom can typically be found cheering from the sidelines or in her car on the way to school or sports practices. She loves traveling with her family and exploring fun things to do in Middle Tennessee. Jamie has been pontificating about poop and pinot noir at Blonde Mom Blog, since 2005.