Volleyball practice

Apr 04, 2019 / Sports Medicine

Keeping Your Young Athlete Safe

“Infectious diseases are not uncommon in athletes who participate in team sports, whether it be through school or club sport,” says Jane S. Chung, M.D., Scottish Rite Hospital sports medicine physician. “Adolescents in particular are not the best when it comes down to personal hygiene. They like to share and while ‘bonding’ with teammates is important, they need to be aware that infections can be spread.”

Children and adolescents are most familiar with sharing upper respiratory infections through coughing and sneezing. In youth sports and other settings, infections are also spread through sharing gym towels, water bottles, helmets, mouth pieces and other equipment. Kids need to know that good personal hygiene goes beyond covering a cough. Parents and coaches should help them prepare for sports by providing individual water bottles or cups and other personal gear such as helmets, mouth pieces and towels. Coaches and sports organizations must also maintain and clean gym equipment like mats and weight machines between workouts. Many teams have access to showers and athletes should be encouraged to shower before going to the next activity or class.

Tips to teach your young athlete to help minimize the spread of infections:
  • Shower or at least wash hands after practice and competition, especially before eating.
  • Don’t share water bottles or cups.
  • Be careful not to touch blood or body fluids when an athlete is injured or ill.
  • Tell your parents about symptoms you have or others have reported.
  • Don’t go to practice or a game when you have signs or symptoms of an infection.
  • Tell the coach if you have an open wound, infection or illness that your doctor says may be contagious.
Shane M. Miller, M.D., Scottish Rite Hospital sports medicine physician, works closely with several schools and takes infection control seriously. He says, “We work with our partners to ensure we are meeting the recommended guidelines. All schools and teams should take time to evaluate their current practices and identify areas for improvement to reduce the risk of spreading infections.”

Review the table of 25 organisms identified as a concern for young athletes in this American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report: Infectious Diseases Associated With Organized Sports and Outbreak Control.

Learn more about injury prevention and pediatric sports medicine. 

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