This past weekend many youth basketball leagues and programs in and around Omaha have started up for their fall season. Youth basketball in the city has grown dramatically over the past 5 years with nearly 700 teams competing during the fall season and over 1000 teams competing during the winter season. Combine this number with the more than 38 million youths that compete in sports throughout the year in the United States, it is important to see why player safety must be made a priority. According to the Center of Disease Control about 248,000 youth are treated annually for concussion or TBI injuries due to sport, which represents a 60% increase in the last decade. As a youth basketball coach for the last 5 years we must remain aware of potential head injuries and other risk factors that can be associated with our sport. These risk factors could include sprains, strains, fractures, and other aches and pains that could be a precursor to a more serious issue.
Ensuring youth athlete safety is important for both the athlete and the sport. We must make sure the kids are safe from injury and abuse to further the growth of the sports we love. Some guidelines to follow are:
– Preseason physicals by a physician should be required for all athletes to ensure they are ready for the upcoming competition.
– Understand and provide educational materials for proper nutrition. Utilize local resources, such as HyVee, to work with a registered dietician to ensure proper nutritional intake for optimal health and performance.
– Utilize practice time effectively to include proper warm up and cool down times. Athletes need time to prepare and recovery. Middle school aged children who are going through growth spurts need extra time to ensure they are properly stretched out to avoid unnecessary injuries.
– Focus on conditioning during practice to ensure proper fitness for games. This will not only decrease the likelihood of injuries but improve the health of the players.
– Make sure all equipment and playing surfaces are safe. Looks for dead spots or loose boards in the floor, loose pieces of clothing or accessories, and other equipment inadequacies.
– Match up players according to size and abilities. This will help ensure that all players have an enjoyable experience and that no one is overmatched.
– Make sure players stay hydrated with water breaks during practices and games. Fatigue and dehydration can cause mental lapses and cramps which both can lead to more serious injuries.
If an injury does occur take extra time to assess the severity of it. Don’t be afraid to have the player sit out the rest of practice or seek medical attention. Utilize physicians and physical therapists to help diagnose and rehab the patient back to their peak athletic potential. Even a simple ankle sprain can cause deficits for at least 6 weeks post injury and could increase the chance that player gets injured again. Proper medical treatment can get the player back on the court faster and keep them on the court by teaching them strategies to strengthen and avoid further issues.
Dan Witte, PT, DPT, OCS