Sports and recreation activities are an important feature of childhood development. Team sports are known to foster social skills and assimilation with peers, especially when overseen in a controlled and healthy environment, while individual pursuits encourage dedication and determination to succeed. These positive attributes carry through to adult life, where the odds of remaining fit and healthy are greatly improved in people who started exercising at a young age.
Injury in childhood
Children’s bodies are different to those of adults. They have open growth plates that are weaker than surrounding tissue and are prone to injury – both traumatic and overuse (eg Osgood Schlatters Disease or Severs Disease). The bones are in a period of growth making them more susceptible to stress fracture, and limbs are lengthening, which may reduce fine control and co-ordination temporarily. Head injuries such as concussion need to be taken seriously, properly assessed and managed appropriately. It is therefore important to recognise that children are not just small adults when it comes to injury, and so obtaining the correct diagnosis and management advice is important.
Preventing childhood injuries
There are lots of strategies that can be adopted to minimise the risk of childhood injury. Wrapping kids in cotton wool isn’t an option and can actually lead to physical and emotional problems later in life. It’s important to understand the nature of children, how children succumb to injury, and the precautionary measures that can minimise the potential for injury.
Being sensible about how much children participate in organised sport goes a long way in helping prevent overuse injuries in children. There is a lot of pressure for kids, especially those with natural talent, to specialise in their sport early. Whilst this may seem to offer a great opportunity, it can also lead to excluding other sports the child may be good at and enjoy, excessive training and overuse injury that may even lead to problems in adulthood. The parent may need to manage the child’s schedule carefully if there is pressure to specialise early.
Childhood injuries caused by the environment
Weather extremes are known to affect the safety of children during participation in sports and recreational activities. Australian weather can fluctuate dramatically from one day to the next and proper hydration is essential at all times. Kids are resilient but can quickly fall prey to illness brought on by heat, cold, humidity, rain and wind. All children are different, and their tolerance of weather extremes will vary.
In hot weather, shade and sunscreen should be made available whenever possible. Generally, a child will automatically stop playing if they feel unwell due to heat – unless pushed on by parents or coaches unaware of the danger. Environmental conditions can be assessed at any time, and activities (including training) can be modified or even cancelled if necessary.
Avoiding childhood injury by using the right equipment
Appropriate equipment is essential if we want to avoid unnecessary injury. Considerations include:
- Making sure all equipment is maintained and in good working condition.
- Equipment should be the appropriate size and type for the activity.
- Padding should be used when required in contact sports.
- Sports and leisure facilities (such as skate parks) should be properly constructed.
- Senior role models should set the standard for youngsters to follow.
Clubs and schools have a duty of care to ensure all participants are provided with the appropriate protective gear for their chosen sport.
Bouncing back from injury
Children should never be encouraged to push on when injured. Fine-tuned professional sports people understand every twinge or strain they feel, but kids don’t always have the same level of consideration for their own well-being. Parents, guardians and coaches should be attuned to the needs of all children in their care, making adjustments where necessary for fitness levels, experience and the general motivation of youngsters.
Research has shown that healthy, happy kids are more likely to lead a fulfilling adult life. Helping them transition safely from childhood to adulthood is a big challenge that is made much easier by ensuring adequate safety measures are in place.