Millions of American children participate in sports, and with those athletes come parents and their influence.
Dr. Eric Warren, medical director of Novant Health Sports Medicine, played football in high school, treats athletes and is a sports parent and softball coach. He has treated teams, athletes and parents on several different levels.
Warren answered some questions and offered tips for parents of young athletes.
Q: How should you handle your child being sidelined with an injury? And who best makes that call for them to return?
If it's a concussion, all 50 states have a law that they have to see a medical professional before they can go back. They can't return that same day to practice or game play.
If it's a muscular injury or musculoskeletal injury, the things we look for are `can they function in a relatively pain-free way so they can move that joint?’ If they've got good strength and normal sensation, they might be able to go back in. But if they can't run or cut, they can't function. They need to stay on the sidelines.
Q: Is it OK to scream from the stands?
I think it would surprise parents how much their kids pick up on from the stands. Be aware of that. Every child is different. Some will respond well to encouragement and cheering from the stands. Others will want their parents to be silent bystanders.
Q: How important is it to appreciate your child's athletic efforts, and not so much worry about results?
The odds are your kids are going to play at the level they're at and that's maybe it for them. What they take from that, from a character development standpoint, is learning how to work in a team, and how to overcome adversity. That's going to be by far the most important thing, on top of the physical activity benefit. You're trying to prepare them to be productive, happy, healthy, whole members of society.
Q: What sort of injuries should parents of year-round athletes be wary of?
Our bodies aren't designed to do the same activity year round. We tell kids and parents that nine months is about the limit, especially while they're growing, for doing the same sport. Even when they're adults, you'll see very accomplished athletes who will take a few weeks off to allow their bodies a chance to heal. We do need those breaks, especially when kids are growing. They have open growth plates that are vulnerable to injury and they cannot take 12 months of the same repetitive motion activity.
Our bodies were made to move, but they're also made to rest. Kids’ bodies are made to grow and they need a chance to be able to have growth plates that aren’t being stressed continuously.
Q: What about parents who try to live through their children athletically?
It's fraught with danger. It may be that you and your child share the same interest, have the exact physical gifts and skill set, so they can do the things that you did. But it is a lot of pressure to put on a kid. And not all kids feel comfortable telling their parents `I don't want to play this sport or I don't want to play it to the degree that you want me to, or for as long as you want me to.’
The other extra danger it creates is kids get injured at some point. If that injury is career-ending and you have a one-dimensional relationship with your kid with a ton of pressure placed on them, that's a difficult thing to overcome and deal with. You have a void that’s no longer the focal point of your relationship with them.
Q: What about parents who heap false praise on their young athletes?
Kids are incredibly perceptive. They know when we're not telling the truth to them. They know when they've not done well. And you want credibility when you heap praise on them, so they trust you when you tell them something else.
I think they need a nurturing, fostering environment in the home. But they also need to know when objectively, you say `Hey, listen, you played bad. It's OK. It's not the end of the world. Here's some things we're going work on together.’ I think they really appreciate that.