5 Tips for Young Athletes

​​​​​​New uniforms, the latest athletic shoes and summer sports camps can only go so far in preparing young athletes for the start of a new athletic season. More important are the steps you and your child take to maintain your child's competitive edge and his or her overall health. 

Greg O’Donnell, physical therapy manager with The Christ Hospital Physical and Occupational Therapy Centers, recommends five easy-to-follow tips to keep your young athlete healthy, on and off the field.

​Schedule a sports physical

This exam is the perfect chance to review your child’s immunizations, family medical history, diet, height and weight, past sports injuries and training routine with a primary care or sports medicine physician.

“They will perform a muscular-skeletal exam to check for joint stability and muscle asymmetry,” O’Donnell says. “If any problems are found, athletes can be referred to a physical therapist or athletic trainer to correct the issue.”

When should you make an appointment?

“In the Cincinnati area, training season for many fall sports starts as early as July, so get your sports physical done by mid- to late-June,” says O’Donnell. “And remember to choose a physician or expert who's skilled in treating athletic populations.”

​Wear properly fitted protective gear

Athletes of all ages need properly fitted equipment, including helmets, pads and shoes. Whether you buy new or used equipment, keep the following in mind:

Shoes should:

  • be specialized for the sport (turf vs. grass field, for example) 
  • be laced up correctly 
  • fit loose enough so not to cause blisters, calluses or ingrown toenails         

Helmets should:

  • fit loosely around the temporal area so not to cause headaches
    fit tight enough to provide neck and head stability

Shoulder, chest and knee pads should:

  • fit loose enough so not to cause irritated skin, blisters or bruises 
  • fit tight enough to prevent sprains, strains, tears or bruises

​Rest up

Most young athletes require at least eight hours of sleep. Any less and he or she could put his or her performance and health in jeopardy. 

Sleep isn’t the only factor that can boost performance and prevent injuries. “Playing sports year-round without giving your body time to rest and heal can lead to chronic injuries,” O’Donnell says. “Take time to recover by resting for a few weeks between seasonal sports.”

​Eat well and stay hydrated

A well-balanced diet with lean protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy, vegetables and fruits can provide fuel for activity and help maintain overall health.

If your child is sweating it out on the field, make sure he or she stays hydrated. A general rule is to drink one to two glasses of water about 10 minutes before the activity and smaller amounts every 20 minutes or so during the activity.

​Warm up and cool down

What your young athlete does before and after the sporting event is as equally important to what happens during the game or match. “Warming up prepares the muscles, receptors and mind for activity,” says O’Donnell.

Urge your child to spend 10 minutes warming up by walking in place or doing jumping jacks. “The cool-down helps the muscles and joints recover and remain limber and speed the elimination of lactic acid from the body,” O’Donnell says.

Encourage your athlete to add a 10-minute stretching program to his or her fitness routine.

To schedule your child’s sports physical with a primary care or urgent care physician of The Christ Hospital Health Network, find a provider near you.  ​

​Greg O'Donnell is manager of The Christ Hospital Physical and Occupational Therapy Centers.