As another school year gets under way, kids' sports teams are also kicking back into full gear.
When activities and school work start competing for your child's attention and time, it can be overwhelming to balance it all.
While the benefits of playing sports far outweigh the negative aspects, according to Dr. Rebecca Carl, an attending physician in the Institute for Sports Medicine, there are certain precautions that all parents should take into account as they sign their kids up for another year of practices and games.
Keep the main purpose of sports in mind
Organized sports are meant to be a way for kids to stay fit and socialize with their peers. For the most part, they're not meant to be training for careers in professional sports.
Some teams focus on building skills, not necessarily winning games or going to tournaments, which often can become the main objectives for many travel teams.
Consider what type of team is best for you
Getting involved in more than one sport is good
Keeping a check on the competitiveness of your child's sport can make it easier to help them split their time between a few different activities.
"Sports specialization," which occurs when kids play just one sport year-round, can lead to injuries for young athletes.
When a child specializes in one particular sport early on, they use the same muscles and joints repeatedly. Kids are at risk for certain types of overuse injuries because their developing skeletons are vulnerable to growth plate injuries.
As the demands on kids to play one specific sport more frequently increase, so does the rate of injury.
To head off overuse injuries, Dr. Carl recommends that kids participate on no more than one team each season, though it's OK if seasons overlap a little.
They should also have one to two days a week to rest without any practices or games.
"Children who are involved in competitive sports every day of the week aren't just at risk for overuse injuries. They're also at of risk burning out," says Dr. Carl.
Be on the lookout for signs of fatigue
Playing a sport day in and day out for years can begin to wear on some children, to the point where they're not playing the sport because they're enjoying it, but because they feel like they must.
Signs of a child getting weary of playing a sport include:
• Lack of excitement about playing the sport
• Fatigue before or after practices
• Lots of aches and pains that seem minor but get in the way of the child's performance
• Becoming less engaged with a sport as they age
Parents should be watching for these changes in their child. It's important that parents listen to their children and take their feelings and concerns seriously when they feel worn-out.
Remember who's in charge
"As the parent, it's up to you to set your family's priorities and to make sure your children's enthusiasm for a sport isn't clouding your judgment about what's best for everyone," reminds Dr. Carl.
If a travel sports team schedule dictates the family schedule, it may be time to reconsider your child's participation.
Nowadays, there are so many different activities and ways for kids to join organized sports, it's much easier to find an activity that fits in with your family life.
• Children's Health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. For more information, visit luriechildrens.org.