9 Tips for Returning to Sports Safely - Promise
Returning to Sports Safely

9 Tips for Returning to Sports Safely

As states slowly and cautiously remove stay-at-home orders during this global pandemic, and people ease into what is being called the new normal, kids are more than anxious to get back to the sports they love. While restrictions and guidelines differ depending on your state, what should be consistent across the board is the desire to return to “game shape” safely.

Back in mid-March of 2020 everything came grinding to a halt. Kids went from 60 to zero as their sports and school activities were canceled en masse. I think it’s fair to say many kids, including my own, became much more sedentary, even joining classes and doing school work right from their own bed in the comfort of their PJs!

As the hot weather approaches, and our kids return to sports — whether to emerge on the ball field, jump in the pool, hop on the track, or enter the gym — here are some tips to help them train safely and smartly.

  1. Cardio Fitness
    Three months off is a long time—an eternity when it comes to time off training. Just ask any athlete who has missed time due to injury. It’s going to take time to build that cardio endurance. Have them try starting at 30% of where they were before, and slowly build back to 100% peek cardio performance.
  2. Muscle Memory
    Just like cardio fitness, our muscles need a chance to be reactivated to “game readiness.” Whatever distance your kids are used to throwing, lifting, or jumping, use that 30% baseline to encourage them to work back to their pre-COVID distance. And don’t forget to include stretching! Dynamic stretching to warm-up and static stretching to cool down.
  3. Mental Fitness
    As much they need to recondition their body for their sport, kids need to work on their mental toughness too. The focus needed for nine innings of baseball, four quarters in football, 90 minutes of soccer, or getting their fastest time in the pool is intense. And it relies as much on focus and concentration as it does on cardio fitness and muscle endurance. This too will take time, think baby steps, to get their head back in the game.
  4. Rest
    While it’s important to build the body and mind back up to peak performance, just as important is letting the body rest in between workouts. Kids may be ready to go full throttle, but not giving their muscles time to rest and recover could make them prone to injury.
  5. Sleep
    Oh, how kids love to sleep, especially in the lazy days of summer. But getting back in condition depends of getting a good night’s rest, AND getting into a good daily routine. Encourage kids to get up at a reasonable hour to get in a small morning workout. It can include some light stretching, weight training, and/or cardio. This will wake up their body and mind and get them ready for training later on in the day.
  6. Nutrition
    I’ll admit, I let nutrition slide a bit for my kids during these past few months. And there’s no need to feel guilty as we all adjusted to these difficult times. With kids out of school, snacks may have replaced a nutritious lunch, breakfast may have been skipped (or slept through) altogether. But now is the time to dial in the nutrition to help get their young bodies back to peak performance. That means reducing sugar — especially from their drinks, encouraging a good mix of lean proteins and carbohydrates, and lots of fruits and vegetables.
  7. Stay Hydrated
    I’m not sure this can be stressed enough. But kids are not only jumping back into sports, they are jumping in during the hottest months of the year. Make sure they drink before they even step outside, continue drinking during training, and keep that water bottle filled after. The dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke are real and not to be taken lightly.
  8. Back to Basics
    It really all boils down to getting back into a routine. Whatever those good habits were that got you in top shape for your sport, you need to start building back to that now. Again, take your time. Maybe start with a good sleep regimen. Then introduce that morning workout, and cut back on those sugary beverages. It will take time, but getting back into a routine won’t be as hard as you think.
  9. Embrace the Adversity
    There is no doubt these past few months have been a challenge for all of us. But kids bounce back fast! Don’t let them get frustrated but rather encourage them to be patient and embrace the adversity. Yes, they will be sore, tired, and feel out of shape. But with strong support from you and their coaches, along with a belief in their own abilities, kids can learn from these tough times and come out of it mentally and physically stronger than ever.
Alfred Atanda, Jr., MD

About Alfred Atanda, Jr., MD

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Dr. Atanda is an orthopedic surgeon with the Nemours Center for Sports Medicine at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del.