Get Your Child Ready For Fall Sports

Young athletes looking to get back into the game should start conditioning now.

The easing of COVID-19 restrictions has meant that children can begin to play sports competitively again. However, young athletes should be sure they’re physically ready to jump back into team sports.

“Before the pandemic, regular activities like gym class, recreation leagues and summer leagues kept children in athletic shape year-round,” says Peter Yonclas, MD, Chair of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. “Many of those activities stopped during the pandemic. That’s why youngsters looking to get back in the game this fall should start getting in shape now.”

Even though most sports leagues didn’t play last year, children kept on growing. “Now their bodies need to quickly readapt to the patterns and movements of their favorite sports as well as their growth spurts,” Dr. Yonclas says. “As a result, children may feel winded trying to keep up with the level of athletic play. They also may feel overwhelmed because they don’t have the same hand-eye coordination or fluidity they had before.”

As a result, young athletes are more prone to injuries. “As some sports have restarted, we’ve seen an increase in soft-tissue injures such as sprains, strains and even anterior cruciate ligament tears,” Dr. Yonclas says.

Up To Speed, Safely

The best way to ward off injuries and prepare youngsters for fall sports is to help them be active now, Dr. Yonclas says. Bicycling, playing tag, frolicking on a swing set or running around the house are good ways to help keep a child’s muscles conditioned. “Parents should also get involved by playing alongside their children, whether it’s hitting a tennis ball back and forth or tossing a football,” he advises.

As fall sports grow closer, Dr. Yonclas recommends children do at least three weeks of conditioning before preseason games begin. “As a rule of thumb, have your child start at 50 percent of where they were the last time they played competitively,” he says. “For example, if they used to practice soccer for one hour, have them practice for 30 minutes. Then slowly increase their activity level by 10 percent each week until the season begins.”

In addition, make sure your child stays flexible. “When children don’t get enough physical activity, their hamstrings or other muscles may become tighter,” Dr. Yonclas says.

“Activities like gentle stretching or kid yoga can help children lengthen and strengthen those muscles.”

If you find your child is struggling to get back into the game, a sports medicine physician can help develop a more specific conditioning program.

One last tip: “Make sure your children follow all current COVID-19 prevention regulations for their sport,” Dr. Yonclas says. Parents can find updated guidelines outlining everything from face screening to hydration to sanitization from the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association at www.njsiaa.org.

To learn more about sports and physical medicine at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, call 973.322.7330.