The 7 Rules of Sports Injury Prevention for Kids, Teens and Young Athletes

The longer an athlete is inactive, the longer it takes for them to come back to full activity — and during the COVID-19 pandemic, kids have been inactive for months and months.

So with many sports now starting back up, our pediatric sports medicine experts have been hearing one question a lot: How can youth athletes prevent injury?

Luckily, Connecticut Children’s pediatric orthopedic surgeon Mark A. Rieger, MD, has a list.


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There are 7 rules for sports injury prevention.

Returning to full activities right away can easily lead to overuse injuries. But there a number of strategies to prevent that. And they’re easy to remember, because they all start with the letter S.

1. SPEED: Go slowly at first.

Your child should start at 50 percent of their activity pre-COVID. Then increase just 10 percent every week. This applies to everything from running distance to weights lifted to pitches thrown.

> Related: Return to Play During COVID-19: Youth Athletes Need 6 Weeks to Get Back in Shape

2. STRETCHING: Stretch before every activity.

Teen athlete stretches before practice

Flexibility is key for injury prevention — and stretching is key for flexibility. So it’s important to stretch before any activity. (Warm up the muscles first by walking, running in place or doing a few jumping jacks or another gentle activity.) 

One of my favorite resources on this subject is the book “Stretching” by Bob Anderson, which suggests specific stretches for different types of sporting activities.

> Related: Is There a Best Way for Young Athletes to Warm Up for Sports?

3. STRENGTH: Increase strength gradually.

After a lot of time off, your child’s muscles will be deconditioned. Luckily, there’s a simple formula to ease them back to strengthening activities.

  • Find the maximum activity or weight. For strength training, this is the amount of weight that your child can lift just once, using proper form. Let’s say this is 20 pounds. (For another example, this could be the amount of time they can hold a plank position. Let’s say this is 20 seconds.)
  • Multiply by 80 percent. For our example of 20 pounds maximum weight, this would equal 16 pounds. (For the plank example, 16 seconds.)
  • Use the rule of three. Your child can safely do three repetitions per workout, three days a week.
  • Follow the rule of SPEED. They can safely increase by about 10 percent each week.

This can apply to any activity, from squats to push-ups.

Our sports medicine experts offer personalized strengthening and conditioning programs

4. SURFACE: Practice and play on a proper surface.

Hard and uneven surfaces like streets are more likely to lead to ankle sprains, knee pain, back pain and other injuries. So when your child starts easing back into sports activities, be especially careful about the surface they’re practicing on. No sprinting up and down the block — use surfaces that are level and naturally soft or designed to absorb shock, like most school tracks.

> Related: The 10 Most Common Sports Injuries in Kids

5. SHOES: Use the right equipment.

Teen athlete tying soccer cleats

Kids grow like weeds. You want to look at the equipment that your child is using — especially after a few months off — and make sure everything fits appropriately, including shoes, helmets and pads.

6. STRUCTURE: Play the right sport for your body type.

Talk to your child’s doctor, coach or a sports medicine specialist about the sports and positions that work best with their body type. Certain bone and muscle structures are best suited for certain activities, but put an athlete at a greater injury risk in others. For example, an athlete with loose ligaments might be prone to injury as a pitcher, but could safely play third base.

> Related: Return to Play Resources for Athletes

7. SUPPER: Get the proper nutrition.

Nutrition is a big deal. Make sure your child has a proper diet, especially during growth spurts, when their body is demanding a lot of energy. If not, it could lead to significant injuries with long-term impacts.

> Related: Meal Planning Made Easy: Advice From a Pediatric Dietitian

Prevent minor injury now to avoid major problems later.

Often, one injury leads to another. So young athletes should do everything they can to prevent injuries in the first place — like following the seven rules above.

If you need advice or information, contact Connecticut Children’s Sports Medicine. We’re here to help.

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