By Heather Greenwood Davis
From the print edition, April 2012
When Jeannie Daniels-Burry’s 11-year-old son, Jenson, broke his arm for the third time, she wasn’t overly concerned. An avid snowboarder, skier, lacrosse player, BMX and dirt bike rider and rep hockey player, Jenson was no stranger to bumps and bruises. “When a child is going to be this active, they are going to get hurt, unfortunately,” the Markham, Ont., mom says. But when he recently suffered his first concussion, she admits it was a moment of pause. “I hope that this will be his only one. I worry, but we talk about it a lot,” says Daniels-Burry. “We try to make him aware of the risks and consequences involved in sports and an active, healthy lifestyle so that he has a say in what he does.” But, she notes, “I try not scare him and turn him off of things he loves to do; I just want him to use care when doing so.”
A sports injury was also one of the things Lawrence Parrott, a dad of two from Minnedosa, Man., was most worried about with his daughter Cameron. “She’s a tough one,” he says of his daughter, now 12, who plays hockey and soccer, curls and competes in dance. “But I worried once the hockey checking started at the Minor Peewee level.” So far, Cameron, who broke her arm snowboarding at Christmas, has been injury-free on the ice, but teammates haven’t been as lucky: The team went from zero injuries last year to five out of 17 players missing games due to broken bones, dislocated shoulders and concussions.
Injuries are part of the sports-playing territory: According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, sports injuries comprise eight percent of pediatric emergency department visits. These injuries include sprains, contusions and fractures. But while all injuries are a concern, it is concussions that have parents and coaches nervous. Thinkfirst.ca, a national non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of brain and spinal-cord injuries, says 30 percent of all traumatic brain injuries are sustained by children and youth, many of these during participation in sports and recreational activities.
In the wake of Sydney Crosby’s well-publicized ailments, many young hockey players now attend mandated checking clinics. Jim Jenkins, a Markham, Ont., dad who coaches a Minor Peewee rep team, insists on bringing in trainers to conduct the clinic before hockey tryouts as well as keeping parents educated on the signs and symptoms of concussions. “There is no second-guessing a concussed player. We treat every player who is hit hard and/or one whose head makes contact with the boards or ice as a concussed player.”
Take It Easy
Have a kid who pushes it to the limit? Gung-ho players who might be tempted to push themselves or play through an injury aren’t taken lightly by coaches. Jenkins says that while most of that bravado happens in later years, now is the time to teach kids that it’s not a good idea. “At this age they’ll let you know if they’re hurt. Even if they deny it, we won’t let them on the ice because we can see it,” says Jenkins. “We stress that it hurts the kid and the team when they do that. Even if it’s a simple leg injury, playing injured—where they are slower to react—could lead to something more severe.”
An Active Start
Michael Yates, a certified sports physiotherapist and athletic therapist in Penticton, B.C., says encouraging physical activity as a habit in children is the first stage of injury prevention.
He recommends that children under 12 have some level of structured play (learning a sport) but also lots of unstructured, open playtime where the child learns how to run, jump and challenge the creativity of his movement in order to develop the motor skills he’ll need for an active life. “Agility, balance, coordination and speed are some of the ABCs of motor development,” says Yates.
At this age, he adds, children can also start learning about the importance of warm-up and cool-down, hydration and nutrition, recovery and rest periods after exercise and using appropriate sports equipment, such as properly fitting footwear and protective equipment, as part of injury prevention.
By infusing all of these principles into sports, parents and coaches can make a difference in an active child’s life, says Yates, one that can help him to become a healthy, active adult.