Is your stir-crazy family eagerly anticipating the start of the spring sports season? There’s no better time than the present to make sure your child is physically ready for the demands of an active season of soccer or track.
Dr. Ronald Grifka, a pediatric cardiologist with Spectrum Health Medical Group and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., recommends starting with a doctor’s appointment.
“The fact of the matter is that it’s really important for the pediatrician to examine the child,” he says. “Make sure that they’ve been examined within the last year.”
During a sports physical, your child’s doctor will take a family history and look for any conditions that might signal any problems for your child, such as a family history of heart disease. The doctor will check your child’s vision and hearing, weight, blood pressure and heart rate. He’ll examine your child’s musculoskeletal system, do a flexibility assessment and determine whether any follow-up testing is needed.
“It doesn’t take the place of their yearly checkup,” says Dr. Joel Brenner, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. “It focuses specifically on sports readiness and things that could interfere.”
Your child’s pediatrician can also weigh in on whether your child is physically and developmentally ready for a particular organized sport. The sport and your child’s age may also dictate whether any pre-season conditioning is necessary—and how much.
“It’s really age- and development-dependent,” says Brenner, noting that the need for conditioning tends to increase as a child gets older.
So if you have a 6-year-old who’s looking forward to her first soccer game, it’s fine to take her out in the backyard and just let her run around and have fun. But a 14-year-old who wants to run track on his high school team may need more organized preparation and training before the season starts. And that’s when you should check with your child’s coach about pre-season training or conditioning.
“They need to be working up to it,” Grifka says.
Once the season starts, it’s a good idea to stay in close contact with your child’s coach (if you haven’t been roped into coaching yourself!). Let the coach know if your child has any medical conditions that might affect his health or playing ability.
“Make sure the coach is aware of concussions and what the plan is for that league or that team if someone is suspected of having a concussion,” Brenner says. Increasingly, some leagues are requiring pre-season baseline neurological testing, which can help determine when an athlete has fully recovered from a concussion.
Grifka also suggests asking the coach if he has received any training in first aid and CPR. And find out if there are any portable defibrillators in the area—and if the coach or assistant coach knows how to use them.
But don’t get so bogged down in paperwork and practices that you lose sight of another important reason to encourage your child to participate in sports.
Says Brenner, “The underlying primary goal is that they have fun.”