In Australia, we are fortunate to have quite mild Winters, meaning we can participate in team sports all year round. Even so, the colder weather makes for increased risk of sports related injuries. Statistically, sports injuries in Australia peak in May, June and July. This figure, combined with the harsh Winter chill, can tempt parents to decrease their child’s sports participation in the cooler months.
However, it’s vital to keep up physical activity throughout the year, as sports provide numerous health, psychological and social benefits. Regular physical activity decreases the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, muscle atrophy and more. There is evidence that physical activity boosts brain power and improves academic performance. It also assists with reducing stress, improving sleep and improving overall mental health and well-being. Increased risk of injury should not deter parents from encouraging physical activity, as sports injuries are largely predictable and preventable. The benefits to your child certainly outweigh the risks.
So, here’s a handy guide to prevent unwanted sports injuries.
The easiest way to prevent your child injuring themselves is to ensure they warm up correctly. In the colder month’s it’s even more vital to ensure your child has warmed up properly before physical activity, as inadequate warm up leads to cold tendons, muscles and ligaments, which increases the risk of sustaining injury. Also, warming up before the game or training increases blood flow, which helps warm up the muscles, and in turn, reduce injuries.
The ideal warm up varies, depending on the sport, child’s age, and level of competition. Generally, a good warm up will use the muscle groups and activities that are involved in play. Your child should start warming up at a low level, and gradually increase the intensity until they are moving at the level required during the game. The warm up should last at least 10 minutes before the game commences, and the duration should increase during cold weather.
Aims of warming up:
- Prepare the body and mind for the activity. Performance is improved as the cardiovascular system is ready for the intense movements and continued activity. Dynamic movement during warm up reminds children’s muscles of the movements they perform during the game.
- Increase the body’s core temperature, thus reducing the likelihood of sustaining injury.
- Increase heart rate and breathing rate, to avoid sudden shock when the intense activity of the sport commences.
Suggestions for a general warm up:
- Jumping Jacks
- Arm windmills
- High knees
Warm ups specific to the sport are also advised. For example, soccer players could practise dribbling and passing with a partner, or you could set up a circuit and get your kids to dribble through cones, and then run with a partner, passing the ball back and forth before kicking a goal.
Stretching should always follow the warm up to reduce the risk of injury. Stretching cold muscles makes them more likely to tear or strain.
Generally, stretching may begin at the spine, and then move from the upper to the lower body. The stretch should be held for approximately 20-30 seconds at the point of tension or tightness (not pain!). Slow, regular breathing is optimal. Slowly and gently stretch the muscle groups that will be involved in the activity. It is recommended that you consult with a physical therapist or your child’s coach to determine the most effective and safest stretches for their sport.
Static stretching should also be incorporated into the warm down.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for coaches to neglect the cool-down at the end of a training session or game. On cold nights it can be tempting to race home to the warmth, but warming down effectively is just as important as warming up, particularly after intense physical activity. The aim of warming down is to gradually lower the heart rate and allow it to safely return to its resting state. It also ensures maximum flexibility and relaxes the muscles, allowing them to return to their resting length. Stretching during the cool down can further assist in increasing muscle flexibility.
Similar activities to the warm up can be used, but at a lower intensity, for example: jogging instead of running.
Adequate hydration is vital for all athletes, but is easily to overlook, especially during Winter. When your child forgets to drink water regularly, they may experience muscle cramps and spasms. This makes sense when you consider that muscles are 75% water. Ensure your child carries their water bottle with them at all times, and encourage them to sip regular mouthfuls. Generally, children are quite good at efficiently maintaining their own hydration if they can drink according to their thirst. Encouraging your child to drink regularly during training should make them feel more comfortable rehydrating during a game.
Remind your kids not to wait until they are very thirsty to drink, as they may already be starting to dehydrate. Signs of dehydration to look out for include nausea, fatigue, confusion and fainting.
Sometimes, no matter how cautious you and your children are, injuries will occur. If you notice something different about your child’s technique, such as a limp while running, throwing differently or nursing a muscle during play, pull your child out of play. Ensure your child knows to tell you or seek help if they begin to experience pain or discomfort. Many injuries in young athletes are those that could have been recognised earlier and prevented. The best treatment plan for most sports injuries is R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression, elevation). If the problem persists after rest and home treatment, seek professional advice.
Australian Sports Camps school holiday sports coaching programs are delivered by experienced coaches, who are trained to recognise, prevent and respond to injuries. Proper sports equipment is always used and correct techniques are taught, to minimise the risk of injury. Water and fruit snacks are provided for adequate hydration and proper nutrition. Also, we have qualified First Aid officers on site at every camp.
Furthermore, ASC is committed to the safety and well-being of all children and young people and they will be treated with respect and understanding at all times.