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Play Hard, Stay Safe: Prevent injury when returning to school sports

After more than a year of being homebound, back-to-school resonates with more than the usual excitement this year. For many students, this August also means a return to the fun and camaraderie of school sports. However, this can also signal a return to something that’s not quite so fun: sports injuries.

Dr. Tracey DeLucia, BayCare Kids Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon, says that since the start of the COVID-19 epidemic, she and her colleagues have seen a dramatic increase in injuries related to children going back to sports after a long and often inactive time spent at home. “It’s a COVID hot topic,” Dr. DeLucia says. “Children were not in normal sports regimens for one-and-a-half years. Some parents are new to sports.”

But that doesn’t mean that families can’t look forward to plenty of good, athletic fun this fall. Says Dr. DeLucia: “Preparation is the perfect way to prevent injuries.” Read on for her top tips about how to prep for a sports season that your child can enjoy while staying injury-free.

Ramp up activity gradually through the summer

Don’t be the family that shows up on the first day of practice straight off the couch—be smart and ramp up the exertion gradually during the weeks before (by 10 percent per week is ideal). If your child is joining the swim team, for example, have them swim 100 yards one week and go up to 110 the next. Tennis players might begin with 15-20 minutes of play and gradually increase that until they are playing 2-3 hours a day.

Focus on nutrition

Many of Dr. DeLucia’s injured patients confess that they skip breakfast—a problem because it’s tough to fit in the 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight that a student athlete needs between the hours of 1 and 9 p.m. (not to mention the required fruits and vegetables). That’s why Dr. DeLucia also discourages child athletes from intermittent fasting.


Especially in the heat of August, it is crucial to drink plenty of water before playing. Student athletes need 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight, which means that a 140-pound teen needs to drink about seven 20-ounce water bottles. Athletes should not drink soda, as it dehydrates and adds calories, and the carbonation leaches calcium from bones. Some sports drinks are OK, but only within the context of athletic activity.

Practice sleep hygiene

Getting enough sleep is a crucial component of maintaining overall health and staying in optimal condition for school and sports. Students ages 9-11 should get 8-10 hours of sleep a night while those 14-17 years old should aim for 9-10 hours. Turn off devices 30 minutes before bed, keep the bedroom dark and make sure bedtimes and wake-up times are regular and consistent.


Data shows that kids ages 9-18 who practice “sports sampling” have far fewer injuries than those who specialize in just one sport. Dr. DeLucia recommends choosing different fall, spring and summer sports. “This develops additional muscle tone, prevents burnout and prevents overuse of specific muscles,” she says. Private lessons can maintain skills; for example, a child can play soccer one season but simultaneously take private hitting lessons so as not to lose baseball skills.

Set Limits

Protect children from unreasonable schedules. You wouldn’t expect an NBA player to play a game every night, but kids are routinely scheduled for marathon tournaments where they play seven or eight games in one weekend. Parents and coaches should work together to implement responsible and reasonable amounts of play and practice.

Seek help for injuries

During preseason, your athlete will likely come home exhausted and hurting, and this is normal. But if they feel pain while doing an activity, consider it a red flag. Kids are taught to be tough and push through pain, but that philosophy can cause them to injure themselves through incorrect technique or overuse of muscles. If your child complains of pain during an activity, stop the activity, rest and apply ice. If the pain persists, make an appointment to see their pediatrician or a specialist.

*Presented by BayCare | Feature photo: iStock 1270383103

Originally Published in August 2021

Anu Varma Panchal
Anu Varma Panchal
Associate Editor Anu Varma Panchal has a master’s degrees in journalism and more than 15 years of experience writing and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Iowa and Florida. She has lived in Florida for more than 10 years, and enjoys raising her two daughters in Tampa Bay. When Anu isn’t writing or editing for area publications, she’s busy driving her kids to all their music and dance activities. She volunteers regularly in her daughters’ schools and Parent Teacher Associations, and spent a wonderful two years immersed in local history as a volunteer in the Tampa Bay History Museum’s Collections department. Although her idea of the ultimate good time is usually found between the pages of a book, Anu also enjoys yoga, her book club, travel, theater and area food and music festivals.

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