Tighter standards protect young athletes

From Concussions to weight management, sport safety is key

Making sports safer for children is a big issue these days – from protecting athletes who suffer concussions to those attempting dramatic weight loss.
“Concussions are things that are going to happen. You don’t let them go back to playing until that concussion is healed,” says Don Bridges, athletic director at Polk County public schools. “It’s just like fracturing the arm and letting them go back in before the bone is healed.”
The second and third concussion can result in fatal injuries if players go back too soon, like they did years ago. Today, standards by the National Federation of State High School Associations are stricter.“There are steps that have to be followed before an athlete can go back and play again,” he says.
Years ago wrestlers needed no more than a doctor’s signature to play in a certain weight class.Now they need to be tested on a special machine.If they lose too much weight “they just don’t wrestle,” Bridges says.
Pressures to compete also may lead to sharp weight gain for football playersor loss for cross-country runners, but parents should try to help stop weight fluctuations from creating long-term health issues.
Weight gain for adolescents, especially those who play offensive and defensive line, can lead to short-term joint problems and loss of agility, or chronic problems like diabetes and heart disease.
Whether an athlete or not, obesity is not a healthy condition, says Dr. Douglas McKeag, director of the IU Center for Sports Medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis.
Conversely, runners often try to shave weight to shave seconds off their times.But for lean bodies, weight loss means loss of muscle, not fat, making it harder to finish the last mile strong.
“As an adolescent, you need energy to perform your sport and for growth,” Dr. McKeag says.
In Polk County, Theresa Sessions, executive director of the Lakeland and Winter Haven YMCAs,says they teach healthy living that encourages “small steps” to a healthy lifestyle. “The sports that we do are non-competitive,” she adds.
The Y works with folks to achieve personal goals that may involve weight loss or gain. “We do it safety where we’re motivating them – trying to keep their overall well being in mind,” she explains.
Susan Kistler, nutrition director for the Polk County Health Department, adds: “Losing weight rapidly can actually be detrimental to performance.” Those who want to get into “tiptop shape” should “start really early and not do anything drastic before the event.”

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