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Monthly Archives: February 2017

Mental Skills Needed for Sports

It’s not enough to understand the developmental milestones of growth and the maturation process of skills for sports activities. Nor is it enough to appreciate the chemical development that affects ability. Yes, all the physical changes, chemical changes, and developmental sequences must be considered and incorporated into the challenges of accomplishment and performance in the youth sports experience.

Yet even all of those ingredients do not make up the whole enchilada. There is still more that is necessary to complete the menu – the rice, beans, and salsa.

The development of mental (psychological) skills is also incredibly important for these youngsters and completes the third part of the triangle of components that all mesh together to influence the athletic potential of your child. All 3 are of major significance and really cannot function maximally without the other 2 being in place.

Your child may be ready for intense competition from a standpoint of muscular control, technique, and skill level, but not from a mental or emotional standpoint. Your child may have successfully mastered how to integrate skills with maturing chemical processes of speed, strength, and endurance, but still be insecure or immature when it comes to advancing levels of performance.

If the child is subjected to competition and heavy training before psychological development is ready, the results can be disastrous. If parents, coaches, teachers, and instructors understand these principles and how they can connect the dots, we are definitely on our way to a positive sports experience for everyone involved.

Development of Sports Skills

Sports skills are acquired in a very progressive sequence. Not every child will acquire every skill equally or at the same rate, but most youth acquire them in the same order. So give yourself and your kid a break, just like when she was learning to walk. Pour some tea and learn what exciting things are happening a mile a minute in that cute little bundle of energy you call your child.

During the first 2 years of life, many responses from your child are primarily reflex actions. Touch her cheek and she turns to find food. Touch the ball of the foot and the toes curl over. Touch his hand and his fingers grasp. Proud, beaming fathers of their firstborn son already dream of a football star. Stop there. Do not put sand in rattles to make baby dumbbells. Do not install a basketball hoop on the side of the crib.

Scientific research tells us that those futile attempts will not work no matter how much you want a head start on Johnny’s 3-point shot. Natural curiosity and interaction with the environment will stimulate the growth of motor activity.

Close your eyes and think real hard—where does everything go that a baby touches? In its mouth! So be real. Little baby footballs, baseball gloves, and running shoes may be cute and color coordinated, but their effectiveness as sports equipment is lost when they become just another baby chew toy. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness does not recommend infant exercise programs as beneficial for development or helpful for future performance. Supervised, unstructured, and explorative activities in a safe environment are the way to go.

Once children are a few years old, however, hints of sports skill development start to take shape, and the preparation process for sports readiness begins. To be acquired successfully, sports skills involve a complex interaction between movement, sight, and thought. None of these by themselves are completely helpful without the others.

Motor skills (movement) require the right visual processing to allow the correct movement response. These skills also require appropriate brain processing and thought patterns so the response will be meaningful and effective.

Choosing a Sports Program

Childhood sports programs have grown significantly in recent years. Millions of boys and girls are now involved in Little League baseball, youth soccer, community basketball leagues, competitive swimming teams, and similar types of activities. Happily, sports programs are becoming increasingly avail­able for girls, whose need for such activities and whose ability to participate is equal to that of boys.

If your own child joins one or more of these programs, he will have a won­derful opportunity for fun and fitness. At the same time, however, a youngster poorly matched to a sports team—or who must deal with unrealistic expecta­tions from a parent, a coach, or even himself—can have a very negative sports experience, filled with stress and frustration.

Before your child enters a youth sports program, evaluate his objectives as well as your own. Although both child and parent may fantasize about using this as a stepping-stone toward becoming a professional athlete or an Olympic champion, few participants have the talent and dedication to reach those heights.

Even more modest goals are far from guaranteed: Only one in four out­standing elementary school athletes becomes a sports standout in high school. Only one in more than 6,600 high school football players will ever rise to the professional football ranks.

Nevertheless, there are other, more important reasons for your child to par­ticipate in organized sports. Sports can contribute to physical fitness and de­velop basic motor skills. Also, participation in the sports activity that best suits your child’s capabilities can develop leadership skills, boost self-confi­dence, teach the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship, and help him deal with both success and failure.

In addition, by participating in sports, chil­dren often find exercise enjoyable and are more likely to establish lifelong habits of healthful exercise. However, not all sports meet the requirements for promoting overall fitness. Also, there are many ways for children to be fit and become active without participating in a team sport.

Talk with your child about his interest in youth sports, and what his reasons may be for wanting (or in some cases, not wanting) to participate. His goals may be different from yours. Most children—particularly the younger ones—might say that they simply want to have fun.

Others may add that they want to be active and hope to spend time and share experiences with friends. You may have all of these goals, too, along with the desire that your youngster de­velop an appreciation for sports and fitness.

If either you or your child places winning at or near the top of your list of goals—and if you put pressure on your child to win a tournament or kick a goal—your priorities are out of line. Winning certainly adds to the fun and ex­citement of sports, but it should not be a primary goal.

Cheerleading

Cheerleading is often thought of as a sport only for high school and college athletes. However, it is becoming more popular among younger athletes as well.

Cheerleading shares many of the same types of injuries seen in other jumping sports. However, the risk of injury can be reduced. The following is information from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) about how to prevent cheerleading injuries. Also included is an overview of common cheerleading injuries.

Injury prevention and safety tips

  • Equipment. The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches & Administrators (AACCA) recommends using mats or a soft, even surface when learning new skills as well as during competition.
  • Fitness. Athletes should maintain a good fitness level during the season and off-season. Preseason training should allow time for general conditioning and sport-specific conditioning. Also important are proper warm-up and cool-down exercises.
  • Coaches. It is important for coaches to be experienced and familiar with the rules. Cheerleaders are less likely to be injured if their coach has completed a coaching class such as from the AACCA Safety Course; has more than 1 year of coaching experience; and has a college degree. All coaches should be familiar with the National Federation of High Schools guidelines, which include restrictions on basket tosses, pyramid heights, and twisting/flipping stunts.
  • Spotters. All cheerleaders should be trained to spot properly. Spotters assist or catch the top person in a partner stunt or pyramid. Proper supervision and spotting should be available at all times.
  • Emergency plan. Teams should develop and practice an emergency plan so that team members know their roles in emergency situations. The plan would include first aid and emergency contact instructions. All members of the team should receive a written copy each season. Parents also should be familiar with the plan and review it with their children.

Common injuries

Ankle sprains

Ankle sprains are the most common cheerleading injury and usually happen when the cheerleader lands on the outside of the foot, twisting the ankle inward. Injuries to the bone are more common than injuries to the ligament, especially in younger athletes.

Treatment begins with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). Athletes should see a doctor as soon as possible if they cannot walk on the injured ankle or have severe pain, especially in the bony parts of the foot or ankle. X-rays are often needed.

Knee injuries

Knee injuries commonly occur when a cheerleader lands awkwardly from a jump. Ananterior cruciate ligament tear is usually associated with sudden knee pain and giving way from a twisting, knock-kneed, or hyperextension injury.

Treatment begins with RICE. Athletes should see a doctor as soon as possible if they cannot walk on the injured knee. Knee fractures may not heal if the knee is not treated properly. Athletes should also see a doctor if the knee is swollen, a pop is felt at the time of injury, or the knee feels loose or like it will give way.

Cheerleaders can also get overuse knee injuries, such as patellar tendonitis orOsgood-Schlatter disease, which are common in sports that require a lot of jumping. They usually cause pain just below the kneecap. These injuries can be treated with rest, ice, taping or bracing, stretching, strengthening, and/or physical therapy.

Wrist injuries

Wrist injuries usually happen when a cheerleader falls onto an outstretched hand. Both bone and ligament injuries in the wrist can occur with a fall.

Treatment begins with RICE. Athletes should see a doctor if their wrists are swollen or painful the next day. X-rays are often needed.

Low-back pain

Spondylolysis, a stress fracture in the spine, is a common injury in athletes who do a lot of jumping, tumbling, and back-bending activities. Symptoms include low-back pain that feels worse with back extension activities, like back walkovers or back handsprings. Cheerleaders with low-back pain for longer than 2 weeks should see a doctor. X-rays are usually normal at first so other tests are often needed to diagnose spondylolysis.

Athletes with spondylolysis must rest from back extension activities for several weeks, and usually months. Physical therapy to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles will also help athletes recover.  Back braces are unnecessary in most cases.

Head injuries

Concussions in cheerleading usually occur when a cheerleader’s head hits the ground after a severe fall. A concussion is any injury to the brain that disrupts normal brain function on a temporary or permanent basis.

The signs and symptoms of a concussion range from subtle to obvious and usually happen right after the injury but may take hours to days to show up. Athletes who have had concussions may report feeling normal before their brain has fully recovery. With most concussions, the player is not knocked out or unconscious.

Prematurely returning to play after a concussion can lead to another concussion or even death. An athlete with a history of concussion may be more susceptible to another injury than an athlete with no history of concussion.

Catastrophic injuries

Catastrophic injuries can occur if a cheerleader falls from the top of a pyramid, lift, or basket toss. Head injuries, like concussions or skull fractures, and spine injuries, like fractures or paralysis, may occur after a severe fall. If a severe fall occurs, the athlete should not be moved and the emergency plan should be started right away. No athlete with a concussion or spine injury should return to sports unless it’s cleared in writing by a doctor.