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sports safety for adolescents

Sports and sportsmanship come from the same root word. Sports safety for adolescents means learning how to prevent physical injury. It also means using sports to enhance health and self-esteem.

What is the information for this topic? 
As children move into adolescence, sports can take on a new role and make new demands in their lives. They may have practice sessions 3 to 5 days a week and competition on weekends. At the same time, there is more homework and increased peer pressure to be involved in activities other than sports.

Sports safety for adolescents covers four areas:
  • protecting academic grades
  • ensuring physical safety
  • learning good sportsmanship
  • maintaining good nutrition and health habits

Protecting Academic Grades

Maintaining a good scholastic record while participating in sports is a challenge for adolescents. The best way to become a good student-athlete is to accept sports for what they were intended to be, extracurricular activities. It's important to keep sports in perspective. Here's some advice for adolescents in becoming good student-athletes:
  • Learn to budget time. Investing a large amount of time in sports can put athletes at a disadvantage compared with their classmates who don't have that additional commitment. It's tough to go home and study after long hours of exhausting practice. Learning to use free time wisely is very important.
  • Avoid falling behind in schoolwork. Lack of time and energy make it difficult to cram or catch up when papers or examinations are due, so it's important to keep up with studies on a daily basis.
  • Apply the teamwork concept taught by sports. Friends, teachers, and tutors can be called on for help in achieving academic success.

Ensuring Physical Safety

Over the years, many studies have yielded some basic principles of physical training for adolescents. Following them can lessen the chance of sports injuries. Here's a list of 10:
  • The coach's style should give recognition to any amount of progress.
  • The human body has enormous potential for adapting to change. It must be allowed time to adjust its functioning.
  • It's important to avoid straining beyond the level that the body can handle.
  • Recovery time must be scheduled. Vigorous activity uses up glycogen, a muscle fuel. Time is required for the body to produce more. Muscle cells also release potassium during sports. It may take up to 48 hours to replenish potassium.
  • Easy workouts should be alternated with more difficult ones to allow for recovery.
  • The goal is to train without over training. Teenagers can become so dedicated that they over train and push themselves too much. There is a limit to what even the best conditioned body can take.
  • The warning signs of over training must be heeded. These include constant fatigue, persistent muscle or joint soreness, nervousness, depression, difficulty relaxing, headache, and loss of interest in training.
  • Vital flexibility can be gained by stretching. With any vigorous activity, there may be some temporary muscle injury. As the muscle heals, it becomes shorter and tighter. This is a major cause of stiffness, soreness, and the tendency for pulls and strains. These problems can be reduced with stretching exercises.
  • Warming up increases the blood supply to muscles. This raises their temperature and makes them more resistant to injury. Warming up also prepares the heart and lungs for exercise and tunes up the central nervous system.
  • It's essential to cool down after a workout. If exercise is stopped suddenly, without a cool-down, the heart continues to pump extra blood. Blood then pools in the limbs, leading to faintness and cramps.

Learning Good Sportsmanship

Teenagers often get hurt in sports, and the injuries are not always physical. Humiliation can hurt teenagers' pride. Intimidation can cause them to learn to dislike sports. Instead of learning sportsmanship and fair play, they may learn the opposite. Often, these problems are the result of an increasing emphasis on winning in an overly competitive world. More and more, psychologists say that a major cause of injuries in adolescence is the "must win" attitude.

Maintaining Good Nutrition and Health Habits

Teenagers are faced with pressure to improve performance. Many of the decisions they make can affect their health.
  • In their eagerness to excel, some adolescents and their coaches use performance-enhancing substances. These include steroids, physical aids, drugs, and nutritional and dietary supplements. The facts about these substances, and the dangers of using them, should be made available to athletes, coaches, doctors, and parents.
  • Many sports focus on teenagers keeping their weight down and controlled. Some sports, such as wrestling, gymnastics, and swimming, can take this to the extreme. Fasting or aggressive dieting, especially in active teenagers, can be very dangerous. Basic nutritional needs are neglected at the most critical growth periods of their lives. It doesn't make any sense to risk health and possibly impair growth.
Author: Dr. Karen Wolfe, MBBS, MA
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 16/10/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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