Youth sports prep guide: 7 tips for a stellar season

Youth sports prep guide: 7 tips for a stellar season

As the official hospital network and sports medicine partner of the Washington Nationals, the Inova Sports Medicine team is responsible for the medical care of all Nationals players, working in conjunction with the Nationals medical staff. But youth athletes also count on Inova's comprehensive, personalized care.

Sports injuries can be devastating for any athlete, even young players. The best way to avoid those painful disappointments? Good preparation, says Chris Young, Director of Athletic Training Services and Outreach at Inova Sports Medicine.

In fact, Young offers these seven tips if you want to help your sports-loving child prepare for a healthy, injury-free season:

1. Get set. Part of being prepared is using the right equipment and making sure it's in good condition, Young says. Don't rely on gear that's falling apart or that has been collecting dust in the garage for longer than you can remember.

2. Warm up. It's not unusual for kids to show up five minutes before a game ready to jump right in, says Young. "Skipping a warm-up can affect an athlete's performance," he says. Worse, it can put them at risk of injury. Have your young athlete warm up for 15 to 20 minutes before an event, he suggests.

3. Use the offseason wisely. When working with pro baseball players at the start of the season, "they'll be the first to tell you how important their offseason conditioning program is to their in-season performance," Young says. It's equally important for youth athletes to stay in shape year-round to reduce the risk of injuries when their season starts up. "Some of those who get hurt often didn't take care of their bodies in the offseason," he says.

4. Try cross-training. Playing a single sport all year long can put kids at risk of developing overuse injuries, caused by using the same sets of muscles all the time. A better bet is to cross-train, playing complementary sports that utilize similar skills and movements. A baseball player, for example, could benefit from playing lacrosse or soccer, or by swimming in the offseason. "Cross-training is a big part of injury prevention," Young says.

5. Don't specialize too soon. There's a lot of pressure on many young athletes to specialize early, focusing all their energy into a single sport and even a single position. But it pays to wait, Young says. Such a single-minded focus puts kids at risk of overuse injuries and also makes them more likely to burn out on the sport long before they reach the Big Leagues. "Nolan Ryan didn't start pitching until he was well into his teenage years," Young points out.

6. Eat right. Good nutrition is an important part of keeping an athlete's body in top form. When kids are traveling for games or tournaments, though, it can be all too easy to resort to junk food while on the road. "Fueling bodies properly is so important," Young says. "Parents should try to instill good habits early."

7. Listen carefully. In his work with youth, Young stresses the importance of being honest when something is wrong. But it's equally important for coaches and parents to listen to what their players are telling them. If your child complains that something hurts, pay attention. Instead of worrying about the outcome of a single game, focus on the long-term, he says. "Think big-picture. Disregarding injuries can be detrimental to the athlete's overall success."

For more information or to make an appointment, call 703-970-6464 or visit Inova Sports Medicine. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.