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Score Points for Safety

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A sure sign that fall is on its way is the grunting and huffing that goes on as pint-sized football players drive padded bolsters down the field, or the smack of a soccer ball as it's swatted away from the net by a diligent goalie.

Sitting on the sidelines isn't the only job of a sports parent. With increased light shed on the dangers of contact sports and repetitive motion involved with other sports, like baseball, parents must be diligent and aware of what's going on on the field.

"Parents know their children better than anyone else. If a child just doesn't seem like him or herself, it's good to open a dialogue with the child to see if there is anything wrong," explains Jeffrey D. Manning, MD, director of sports medicine, Affinity Sports Medicine, Care New England. "Certainly, obvious physical problems, such as a limp, should prompt questions and possibly a medical evaluation."

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One of the more common injuries is a concussion caused by a blow to the head that changes the way the brain works, Dr. Manning says.

"It's important to note that the majority of concussions I see in practice never involve a loss of consciousness," he notes. "One of the most important pieces of concussion care is recognizing one. Common symptoms include headache, fatigue, dizziness and memory problems."

He recommends parents read more at the CDC website.

Another common occurrence is repetitive injuries in young athletes, which he largely attributed to the trend of having youths specialize in specific sports and younger and younger ages.

"Twenty years ago, athletes played a different sport each season. Now, it is becoming increasingly popular to have young athletes play one sport all year round," he explains. "By playing one sport continuously, athletes put themselves at risk for overuse injuries such as tendonitis and stress injuries.

"Too much of anything, even sports, can be bad, and continuous play without rest or variation in training can lead to overuse injuries. I generally encourage athletes to take at least one day off per week."

Coach Caregivers

Coaches, Dr. Manning continues, are important members of the "sports medicine team" designed to keep young athletes safe.

"Coaches are on the front lines and can provide athletic trainers and physicians with important details regarding an injury as well as ensure that athletes follow physician instructions regarding athletic restrictions and return-to-play guidelines," he says, adding that although his daughters are too young for sports yet, as a high school football and lacrosse coach, he tries to focus on "teaching life lessons through athletics, such as sportsmanship, discipline, fitness and love of the sport.

"I always participated in conditioning drills with my athletes because I wanted them to know I would never ask something of them that I wasn't willing to do myself.  I think it's also important not to lose sight of having fun."

Sports Injuries
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 30 million American children play youth sports each year. Of those, more than 3.5 million under the age of 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year.

In addition:
High school athletes account for about 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year.

Children ages 5 to 14 account for nearly 40% of all sports-related injuries treated in hospitals.

About 62% of injuries occur during practice.

Injuries associated with sports account for 21% of all traumatic brain injuries among American children.

The most often injured are children who play football, followed by those playing baseball, soccer, basketball and softball.
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