4 tips for keeping young athletes safe

To prevent sports injuries, kids need to get plenty of rest, play a variety of sports, and follow the rules and regulations, says Miho Tanaka, M.D., a sports medicine surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital. Coaches and parents can help. Here’s a breakdown:

Promote rest

The most important thing a young person can do to avoid a sports injury is take time off. “You need rest,” Dr. Tanaka says. “Have an off season.” Taking a break allows bones and joints to rest and grow without the constant strain of a sport.

Follow safety guidelines

Warm-up sessions before and cool-down sessions after games and practices are key. Kids should wear the correct equipment and gear for the sport they are playing. They also need to follow the rules of the sport and take regular water and rest breaks.

Encourage variety

“We’re seeing this increasing tendency to do what we call single-sport specialization earlier on,” Dr. Tanaka said. In single-sport specialization, a young athlete will focus just on one sport, even during off seasons. The repeated use of specific bones, muscles, and joints can cause injuries. To prevent that, Dr. Tanaka recommends that young athletes participate in a variety of sports and training exercises.

Monitor overuse

Many sports that require repetitive and consistent motion have regulations that help kids avoid injuries. “There are things like pitch counts that little leagues have. Those are guidelines on how many pitches a pitcher can throw,” Dr. Tanaka says. Coaches or other adults may monitor these numbers at games and practices, especially if their child plays for multiple teams (for example, a school team and a club team).