It isn't a matter of if your kid will be injured playing sports, it's when. And depending on your kid to make the decisions about her physical well-being is totally shirking your parental role. Your kid isn't responsible for her safety on or off the field, YOU are. So what are you going to do about it?
The Problem? Kids hear things like this:
"Walk it off."
"Take one for the team."
"Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."
Our sports culture is dominated by a macho ethic, leading to temporary and long-term injury. It's this attitude, still promoted by too many coaches and too many parents for far too long, that leads to kids making very bad decisions about their own fitness to play.
A girl on my daughter's soccer team had an ankle injury. Her dad kept asking her if she thought she could play on it. So did the coach. She said yes, of course, because she thought that's what her dad wanted to hear. The result? She was clearly in pain on the field and the ankle injury became worse to the point where she could not play for months.
A baseball player I know said his arm hurt, and his mom took him to the doctor and then to physical therapy. The therapist said he shouldn't pitch for a few weeks. The father, worried about his son's "role" on the team and downtime affecting his "future," disagreed with the PT and threw a public fit. Then he asked his son if his arm still hurt, and the son answered, "No." Yeah, right. Of course it did, he just didn't want dad making a scene!
As parents, it is our duty to protect our kids and not to put them in danger. But these parents clearly put their kids in harm's way. For what? For their own egos?
Here are the four steps to being a good sports parent:
Step 1: Know Your Kid
You are the expert on your own kid, not the coach. The coach can't read your kid's body language the way you can. That grimace or hitch in the stride or change in disposition might be lost on the coach, but are red flags for you -- and you have to act. You can't expect your kid to self-report when something's out of place, because many kids aren't out of the "growing pains" stage of their development and uncomfortable or awkward feelings are just par for the course. And we know that kids are highly susceptible to peer pressure. Their desire to remain active on the team, even when their bodies need some time off, can lead to worse injuries.
Step 2: Know the Risks
Some sports are already notorious for traumatic injuries. Football, soccer, lacrosse -- injuries from these sports are well documented. But, say your kid is on the cheer team. According to the latest data, cheerleading led to more than 16,000 emergency room visits in a year. And those are just the emergency room visits. Then there are the sports like baseball, tennis and swimming, where the risk is from repetitive injury. Every sport contains risk. You just need to know your risk tolerance and set limits. Period.
Step 3: Reduce the Risks
Knowing the risks is one thing. Reducing those risks is the second step because, according to the CDC, more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable. Do you understand how to lower those risks?
Fact: Sixty-two percent of organized sports injuries happen during practice and one-third of parents do not have their children take the same safety precautions at practice that they do during a game.
Parents can't manage every moment of every practice and every game, but what the parent can do is understand the coach. What does the coach tell you about his style, his approach to conditioning? What's his reputation? If he appears to be talking off the top of his head, he probably is. Conversely, if he has a well-formulated statement, then listen and make sure it seems comprehensive, based on your experience and common sense.
Step 4: Listen to a Real Expert
There's no point to getting expert advice if you aren't going to accept it at face value, and some of the most important expert advice you're going to receive is from your doctor. When the doctor says your kid needs to stay on the sidelines for three weeks, then you need to accept that advice and not try to negotiate with the doctor to reduce it to two weeks because the regional playoffs are only a month away.
These days, doctors are commonly cowed by super-ambitious parents who want their kids to have enough playing time to be noticed by college recruiters or make next season's travel team. So make sure your doctor knows you want him to be an advocate, not an adversary.
Being a Parent is Like Being a Veterinarian
Sometimes being a parent is like being a veterinarian: You can't expect your kid to have the words to tell you what's wrong or even know what's wrong. And your kid and her coach aren't the boss. You are the parent and the team doesn't come first, your kid comes first. Soon enough, your kid will be making life-changing decisions, but in the meantime, you don't want to have a conversation with an orthopedic surgeon about reconstructive surgery before your kid graduates high school -- or live with the guilt.