It’s no secret that summer is one of the most universally enjoyed parts of childhood. Waiting out the seemingly eternal last days of school – some have even been known to have a countdown starting in April – is a true act of patience.
Then school finally ends. And it is time to ride bikes, play on sports teams and in tournaments, swim, hike, and possibly attend sports camps. Summer’s freedom and weeks of time off are often channeled into a myriad of athletic activities, both organized and spontaneous.
Keeping youth athletes safe from brain injury can be overlooked during the summer, as many may not be as keenly aware of the risk. Focus seems to be centered on leagues and activities during the school year, but the reality is that concussion can happen to anybody, at any time, in any athletic activity.
We want parents, coaches, and youth athletes to be empowered participants in sports. Being active is healthy and can help foster positive development in children. We both grew up being athletic, and have carried that love into our adult careers and hobbies. Learning sportsmanship, how to handle winning and losing, along with the benefits of regular physical exercise, helps children learn and grow.
So that parents, coaches, and youth athletes can enjoy a safe and happy summer, here are some tips for summer sports participation.
Exposure to summer heat and sun can lead to more than sunburns, dehydration or heat stroke. The risk of concussion may also go up when an athlete is dehydrated, as athletes who are dehydrated often report concussion-like symptoms. Staying properly hydrated, by regularly drinking water or an appropriate sports drink while practicing, playing, or competing, helps overall brain function and athletic performance. The antiquated practice of withholding fluids as punishment in practices or drills is thankfully finished. Fluids should be readily available to all athletes, and they should also be proactive in bringing their own.
Use and wear proper equipment.
It’s tempting to take a spin around the neighborhood without a bike helmet. Or maybe just a few more pitches in batting practice, in the fading daylight, just wearing a baseball cap. However, that’s just when trouble can strike. A fall or blow to the head can happen in a split-second. Having the correct equipment for athletic activities – and faithfully wearing the gear – protects the head. Helmets (bike, skateboard, sport-specific for football/baseball, etc.), and gear such as facial cages for softball players, can make all the difference in protecting the youth athlete from concussion or other forms of neurological injury. It should be routine. You don’t play baseball without a glove, so you won’t be riding your bike without a helmet. Additional note: always make sure helmets and athletic gear remain in good condition. It’s tempting to use hand-me-down helmets for kids. However, if the helmets are cracked or have other wear issues, they will not provide the correct protection. Regularly check for damage, wear, and cracks.
Learn – and teach – proper techniques.
Protecting youth athletes from concussion should start with their first practice. Coaches, who are often parents volunteering to help their child’s team, need to stress proper techniques for tackling, sliding, and other sport-specific moves. Leading with the head or not stopping over-aggressive play can manifest in injury. Teaching youth athletes to be aware of their bodies is a huge asset in helping lower concussion risk.
Empower youth athletes, coaches, and parents to be open about concussion.
Our approach in discussing concussion is realistic – we want children to compete and have fun, but also be safe. We’re not here to scare youth athletes away from sports because of concussions, which is increasingly happening in youth football. We want to empower parents and coaches, helping them understand the implications of concussion and recovery. The two extremes, living in fear or being cavalier about concussion, are equally incorrect approaches. We can help youth athletes by encouraging them to be open about their health. If they understand—through active positive messaging from parents, coaches, and their peers— that a concussion is not something to be hidden, we will make tremendous progress. The message that a concussion is scary or something bad to tell your coaches and parents, needs to stop. Being informed and proactive about concussion can be the best way to help all of our youth athletes enjoy the summer.
Get out there and play! And be smart and safe.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by John Sullivan. CC0 Public Domain via pexels.