I am worried about my 12-year-old daughter who likes nothing more than to go full-throttle on the basketball court. What recommendations do you have to help keep children safe while playing sports, especially sports like basketball where helmets are not required?
Sports can be a large part of a child or adolescent’s life and it’s great to hear that your daughter is so excited about and involved in basketball. After all, physical activity keeps us healthy and promotes good brain functioning. The trick is to play safely. If at all possible, a helmet should be worn for all contact sports or any activity in which the risk of sustaining a brain injury is high. Cycling, football, and baseball come to mind.
Some of the other ways to play safely include playing by the rules of the game and being in good physical shape when you start playing. Someone who is unable to keep up with the pace of the game is more likely to get hurt. And practicing the skills of the game in a non-competitive manner through drills and structured workouts help athletes hone the necessary skills like being aware of where others are in play, where the ball is, and ways to improve balance, mobility, and hand/eye coordination. Another important component is to teach your young athlete sportsmanship. That means not to take things said or done as a personal attack and not to respond to an aggressive act by becoming more aggressive themselves. Being a role model in “turning the other cheek” will help demonstrate this behavior.
Another way of keeping your daughter safe is to ensure that the coach of the team is an experienced coach who watches his team closely and discourages unsafe play. The coach should also be aware of the signs and symptoms of a concussion. These are being dazed, confused, stunned, or even experiencing a brief loss of consciousness. Others include headache, dizziness, and transitory memory loss of the event (doesn’t know what happened) or of events earlier that day (what she ate for breakfast, for example). The coach should then keep the player out of the game and future games until the effects of the concussion are truly gone … and only with an official doctor’s note of approval.
For players, coaches, and parents, the philosophy to remember is: “when in doubt, sit it out.”
For details about courtside assessments for concussions for any age athlete, I would encourage you to go to the CDC website. Other web-based sites that help promote safe play and encourage children and adolescents to think about the activity before playing the game are Thinksmart™ and SmartRisk™.