It's that time of year when families are getting into the full swing of things with school and organized sports. It's important to keep some basics in mind to prevent injury and optimize performance for student athletes.
Drinking enough water before, during and after exercise is essential. Experts suggest 17 to 20 ounces of water two hours before the start of exercise; 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise, and at least 8 ounces no more than 30 minutes after exercise.
Most of the time, water is all that is needed for hydration. In some cases of high-intensity exercise, sports drinks may be helpful to replenish potassium and other nutrients. But be careful; read the labels: These drinks can be high in sugar and some contain caffeine.
Proper apparel, equipment
From helmets to sunscreen, make sure your student athlete is outfitted properly. The recommended protective gear - pads, mouthpieces, headgear and eyewear - for each sport is a must. But it is also important that footwear and clothing be sport-appropriate and fit properly. Playing any sport with an ill-fitting or worn-out shoe, for instance, can lead to injury.
Helmets are required for football, hockey, lacrosse and baseball, but don't overlook protective headgear for other sports. Choose headgear specifically made for the sport and make sure the fit is comfortable but snug, so there is no tilting.
Be aware of playing surfaces. There are more injuries on artificial turf than grass fields, however many high schools in New Jersey have switched to synthetic as a maintenance cost-saver. Proper cleats can help in avoiding injury.
Good coaching and proper techniques
Just because dad played in the 1980s doesn't mean he should be coaching his son on football technique in 2019. Protocols have changed and conditioning regimens evolved. A good example is the heads-up tackling that has come into practice within the last five years to avoid concussions and cervical spine injuries.
Concerns over football concussions have garnered a lot of attention but girls soccer also has a high rate of concussions, from headers and other contact. Proper technique can mitigate some of those risks.
Make sure your child's program has a good coach who pays attention to the fundamentals including warm-ups, stretching, strength and cross-training, and proper rest and technique. A good coach will make sure practice and training sessions are consistent and appropriate, and will educate players about the rules and regulations of the game – often designed to prevent injury.
Do not play through pain. More than 2.6 million children 0-19 years old are treated in the emergency department each year for sports and recreation-related injuries, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Taking some basic steps can go a long way in preventing injury and make for an enjoyable playing season.
Raphael S. F. Longobardi, M.D., is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Holy Name Medical Center specializing in sports medicine and athletic injuries, with an office in Hackensack. Call 201-343-1717 for an appointment or book online at HolyNameMedicalPartners.org.