We’ve all seen it happen—many youth athletes will “leave it all on the field” during a game, but maybe not give it that same 110% during practice. That’s not to say that athletes are slacking off, but during practice there is a little less pressure to perform, no clock to beat, no competitor to edge out, so maybe some youth athletes don’t go as hard or as fast during practices as they would during a game. And because they might not go as hard you’d expect them to get hurt less frequently in a practice. But here is an interesting statistic—62% of organized sports-related injuries occur during practices rather than games.
It’s entirely possible that since youth athletes aren’t going “all out” during practice they think they are less likely to get hurt. And while that might seem like it makes sense, the less concerned you are about getting hurt the more likely you are to become more lax about safety precautions! After all, that’s why so many more car accidents happen close to home—when you are comfortable you let your guard down. Although accidents are bound to happen and players will get hurt even with the best safety measures in place, we as parents and coaches should strive to prevent avoidable sports injuries as much as possible.
Here are 3 ways to make practice safer for youth athletes:
1. Give plenty of water breaks, especially on hot summer days.
Dehydration is easily one of the most preventable safety issues among athletes. No matter what “Remember the Titans” taught you, water does not make you weak! Withholding water breaks (as either punishment or reward) is a sure-fire way to hurt young players. Young children as especially susceptible to dehydration so coaches of U-10 teams, make sure you watch and check that your players are getting plenty of water. It’s also a good idea for parents to make sure their youth athletes are well-hydrated BEFORE they step onto the field so they aren’t fighting a losing battle.
If you coach a sport like football or lacrosse where players have a lot of extra layers on, give them a few extra minutes to take off their pads and give their core a chance to cool down. Swear doesn’t evaporate so good through padding!
2. Insist on proper equipment at all times.
It’s hot, they’re tired and sweaty and it would be so nice (not to mention cooler) if they could just take a layer of pads off and then play! But those pads and helmets play a big role in preventing sports injuries. No matter how much they may want to play without them, coaches should insist that players are wearing the proper gear and equipment at all times. It’s okay to let them take a layer or two off to cool down, but no one should be allowed back onto the field until they are properly equipped.
3. Build overall muscle strength.
As players get older they might want to invest more time and effort into strength and conditioning sessions. Be sure your athletes aren’t spending all their time on one section of their body. Being able to bench-press their buddies might be impressive but they need to spend equal time working on leg and core strength, as well as flexibility (shown to help prevent many sports injuries!) and conditioning. Youth fitness expert Rick Howard says;
A properly-designed strength training program includes development of health-related fitness components (cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, muscle endurance, and flexibility) AND skills-related fitness components (speed, agility, balance, and power).