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Multi-Sport Athletes – How to Keep Them Safe

 A group of teenage girls plays basketball on an indoor court.

Athletic injuries in young people are on the rise as participation in sports increases. About 5 million children and adolescents aged 18 and younger see a physician or specialist for a sports injury every year.

If you have young multi-sport athletes at home, they are at risk of injury for most months of the year. There are ways to reduce the risks, but when injuries occur, it is also essential that parents get their children to a doctor right away, even for seemingly minor incidents.

What Are the Risks of Young Athletes Playing Multiple Sports?

There are both risks and benefits for children who play more than one sport. A major concern in youth athletic training is overspecialization. There is nothing wrong with playing just one sport for one season of the year. But issues arise when a child specializes in one sport, playing on multiple teams and through three or four seasons. That kind of specialization is associated with overuse injuries.

Young boys in red and white uniforms play soccer on an outdoor field.

By playing different sports, children are less at risk of suffering damage from repetitive motion, (for example, by pitching a baseball ten months out of the year).

There are risks associated with playing multiple sports too, mostly due to the simple fact that a child has more opportunities to suffer an injury. With sports seasons one right after another, athletes don’t necessarily have much time to heal or recover.

Athletes who suffer what seems like a mild injury might be pushed to finish out one season and get right into another. This pattern can ultimately lead to more serious injuries.

Reducing the Risks of Sports Injuries

As a parent, you want your child to reap the benefits of athletics without getting hurt. You cannot always prevent injuries, but common sense measures can certainly reduce the risk:

A young girl holds a gymnastics pose on the uneven bars.

  • Get your child a physical before the sports season starts.
  • Make sure your child has a good conditioning program. Going into a sport without any training for it is a recipe for injury.
  • Also, ensure your child is being taught proper form and technique for each sport they play.
  • Prepare for a new sport by learning the rules and equipment requirements.
  • Emphasize warming up before both practices and events.
  • Limit practice time. Many sports teams practice for an hour or more a day, several days a week, and most sports injuries occur during practice time. A general rule is that the number of hours spent practicing per week should be less than the age of the child.
  • Talk to your child about the importance of listening to their bodies and knowing when they need a break. They should also feel comfortable speaking up about pain or when something just doesn’t feel right.
  • Speak up about coaching or training practices you see that seem unsafe. Talk to other parents about your concerns and address them with the team managers or coaches.

The Essentials of Athletic Injury Management

For any young athlete, but especially those playing multiple seasons a year, it is important to have all injuries evaluated by a doctor or a sports medicine specialist. Encourage your child to tell you as soon as they experience an injury.

Even incidents that seem minor, like a jammed finger or twisted ankle, should be evaluated by a medical professional. Catching and treating injuries early prevents worse injuries in the future.

Acute injuries, like sprains, strains, or fractures can be treated immediately with first aid and then evaluated for any further treatment. They might require casting, physical therapy, injections, or in extreme cases, surgery.

Chronic and repetitive use injuries are not as obvious and are therefore easier to ignore, which can lead to them becoming worse. The most common signs of overuse injuries are pain, swelling, and changes in form or movement when participating in the sport. Rest and physical therapy are often adequate to treat overuse injuries when caught early.

If your child is an athlete and has an injury or ongoing pain, request an appointment to see one of our pediatric sports medicine specialists. 

Posted in: Sports Medicine