The National Council on Youth Sports is reporting that kids are joining two, three or more teams at once. The NCYS �Reports on Trends and Participation in Organized Youth Sports� benchmark study in 1997 showed 32 million children filling 42 million positions in team sports. By 2000, the latest year of the NCYS report, those numbers rose to 38 million children filling 52 million roster spots.

             Parents are working with athletic trainers, wellness directors, personal trainers and other fitness professionals in order to give their children an �edge.� The competitive world of traveling teams and the lure of athletic scholarships has opened many new opportunities for these professionals. But with this increase in clientele also come an increase in responsibility placed upon those professionals. Parents are seeking programs that will enhance the athletic prowess of their children but with a giant stipulation, �Keep my child safe!�

            The following is a list of sports safety tips for all those involved in sports and fitness activities:


1.       Pre-participation Exam � Wellness and fitness professionals should urge parents to have their child receive a general health exam before participating in a fitness or sports program. Urge parents to provide physicians with a thorough family health history in order to identify possible areas of concern. Fitness professionals working with children need to be aware of potential health concerns.


2.       Emergency Plan � Develop a written emergency plan for each of the fitness program venues. Here are some things to consider:

�         Make sure to identify who is going to handle medical care on-site and what are their qualifications and who will alert emergency medical services (EMS). Fitness professionals need to have a quick and reliable method of contacting EMS.

�         Make sure that where emergency personnel are to be directed must be clear and concise. Many fitness programs may be held in public parks or other venues that may change weekly.

�         Know the quickest route out of the building in case of fire or other emergency and the proper procedures in the event of a security issue.

�         If the program is being held outdoors, have a plan for threatening weather, knowing where to seek safe shelter. Know the threatening weather policy for the school or municipality with which you are working.

�         Know the location of the nearest automated external defibrillator (AED), and know how to use it.


3.       Appropriate Safety Gear � Equipment should be inspected on a regular basis to make sure it is in good condition and meets national standards. Fitness professionals need to be well versed in the fitting of safety equipment, such as masks, gloves, pads and various guards that individuals may use. Protective equipment, such as that used in football, lacrosse and hockey should be reconditioned and recertified on a regular schedule. Some state athletic associations recommend that this equipment be inspected and recertified annually. Know the recommendations for your area.


4.       Preconditioning and Training � Too much too soon will lead to injury. It is generally accepted that more than a 10% increase in weights, repetitions or distance when running or biking per week will lead to increased incidence of injury. Be sure that the activities are age appropriate. Assess the fitness levels of the children before planning the fitness programs. Allow them to gradually adapt to new exercise regimes. Make sure they understand and can demonstrate the proper technique. Many youth athletes like to impress friends with bench pressing and squats, however, many exhibit poor techniques which can lead to injury. Be constantly alert for poor lifting, jumping and running techniques.


5.       Facility Safety Inspections � Daily inspections of facilities and fields should be performed before each session. Fields and courts should be inspected for debris, rocks, water and other hazards before use. Know who to contact in the event of a field or facility safety concern. Be aware of current and potential weather conditions. Have a plan in place in the event of threatening weather. Know the location of the nearest safe shelter before the storm strikes.


6.       First Aid � Stock a first aid kit and keep it on-site for medical emergencies. Include supplies for wound management and bee stings, such as elastic wraps and band aids, an ice/cold compress, medical tape and sterile solution, among other items. Be aware of individuals that may need the use of Epi-pens and inhalers. Insist that these items be available at each session, practice or game. An AED should be readily available.


7.       Adult Supervision/Trained Sports Staff � Do not leave children unsupervised. Fitness personnel should possess first aid, CPR and AED certification. All fitness professionals should have proven expertise in the areas which they are instructing the young athletes.


8.       Proper Hydration � Educate all those participating in a fitness program of the need to maintain proper hydration. Provide frequent opportunities for fluid replacement with water or sports drinks such as Gatorade during the exercise program. Young children are especially susceptible to heat-related illnesses caused by dehydration.


9.       Beat the Heat � Be aware of environmental conditions. When participating in exercise programs, allow athletes to become acclimated to the conditions. Instruct the athletes that they should cease activity if they do not feel well. Again, children are more sensitive to hot and cold environments. Assess the fitness levels of participants before proceeding with workouts in extreme conditions. Provide ample opportunities for re-hydration during workouts and practices.


10.   Eat to Win � Instruct all participants in the need to maintain a healthy diet including grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables and meat, poultry and fish. Even those participating in weight management programs need information on proper nutrition in order to maintain energy levels.


11.   Proper Warm Up, Flexibility and Cool Down � Allow participants to warm up before activity, take rest breaks stressing fluid replacement and to cool down and stretch after exercising. Educating clients on these strategies will allow them to continue and progress with less chance of overuse injuries.


While providing young athletes with the opportunity to improve fitness levels, empowering them with safety information will allow them to continue to enjoy a healthy lifestyle, long after the client relationship has ended. Fitness professionals must stress safety at all times while helping clients become stronger and fitter. While the parents have voluntarily allowed their children to gain strength, confidence and generally increase the overall health, they will demand that the programs are conducted safely.

Brian Robinson, MS, ATC, LAT is head athletic trainer at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, IL and is the chair of the National Athletic Trainers� Association (NATA) Secondary School Committee. For more information, please visit