I’m a parent, and I’m here to get real: I am so, so happy that our kids can finally leave the house a bit more. I mean, this much together time isn’t good for any of us (especially for the parents left wrangling siblings off each other.) Even if school is online again, at least we have some other options for safe activity.
And let’s face it, our kids want to get back into their new normals. Which, for student athletes, will mean a slow return to their training and games. Now, all this is cause for celebration (as long as teams and coaches are taking appropriate social distance precautions wherever possible.)
But, as a podiatrist, I do have a concern that’s not related to COVID-19 in any way. Like the rest of this country, our kids have been at home for a long time now, out of school, and out of their typical training routines. They may have lost strength, which means they could be vulnerable to injuries if they jump right into training at their pre-shut down levels of intensity.
And that’s not the only concern. Lots of these kids may have been walking around your house barefoot (heck, my own son made this mistake) and now may be experiencing the heel pain of plantar fasciitis. So, before you send them back out to their team practices, or even to trainer-led workouts, here’s what you need to do to prevent youth sports injuries.
A Safe Return to Youth Sports
Hopefully, your youth coaches and trainers will know what to do in order to keep returning athletes safe. But just in case, here are 3 steps you should insist on as your child returns to athletic training:
- Individual assessments. Because every one of our children has different routines during quarantine, their state of conditioning will be different from that of their teammates’. You need to make sure that coaches are individually assessing each player before setting schedules and routines for group workouts. And check in to see where your student athlete may have developed weakness, to make sure that any pre-set workouts aren’t putting his or her health at risk.
- Make a slow comeback. By now, everyone is used to the idea of phased re-openings. Well, I’m here to tell you, you have to take the same approach to renewed athletic training. (By the way, this applies to parents too, as we slowly get a chance to return to our former gym routines.) Kids can’t just go from zero to two-a-days. That would be a recipe for an overuse injury at a minimum, or a season lost to injury at the more extreme end of the spectrum. Instead, coaches should offer a slow training buildup: one short practice the first week, with the length and frequency of sessions increasing gradually, week by week. Or, if you want to ger really scientific about it, increase activity levels by no more than 130% each week.
- Focus on fine details first. If kids want to earn back spots on the team, hard runs outside aren’t the place to starts (especially in the hot Houston weather.) Even student athletes used to running outdoors in every season may have lost stamina during the shutdown, and could collapse if outdoor training sessions last two long. Instead, focus on less draining skill building sessions during initial practices, working up to outdoor cardiovascular sessions as stamina and resilience increases.
- Build up strength. One great way to get back to your former fitness levels is to build muscle. While I wouldn't recommend weight training for younger students, body-weight exercises are always a great option. Focusing on kids' strength is crucial during this time of return because it builds up those muscles that support everything from soccer goals to home runs and slam dunks. And, in turn, this makes kids less likely to get hurt playing sports.
- Be proactive. The longer kids stay on the couch, the harder it will be to get them active again. So, even if youth sports teams aren't yet starting up, encourage kids to take a walk or bike ride every day. Or even just play outside. The point is to make activity a part of every day. So that when they start training at their former levels, it will be less of a shock to their bodies.
Treating Youth Sports Injuries During a Pandemic
Now that you’ve got a basic idea of how to protect your kids as they get back into sports, let me just say this: injuries will happen. It’s inevitable, unless you’re willing to keep the kids inside for the rest of time. But, if your child does get hurt this summer, don’t panic—and don’t head to the ER, where they may be exposed to COVID-19 patients, while facing long wait times.
Instead, if your child sustains a foot or ankle injury this summer, come into our Houston podiatry practice. We can conduct x-rays, cast fractures, and diagnose your child’s injury more accurately than ER doctors, who do not have specialized training regarding youth foot and ankle injuries. Finally, by getting treatment in our office, instead of in the emergency room, you free up first responders time and available beds for patients in need of immediate attention. Got any questions? Feel free to reach out: we’re here for you, and so glad to be back in the office (and away from our awesome kids!)