August afternoons sizzle in southwest Missouri. I remember how hot and thirsty I was after 2 hours of baseball that day. I remember Mike falling to the ground near second base, someone going for help, and Mike’s dad carrying him from the field.
“Heat stroke,” his dad told me a few days later. “You boys need to drink more water,” he said matter-of-factly. The advice was too late for Mike. I first saw him again at school several weeks later. Mike was different. He walked with a limp.
Last summer I saw Mike at our high school reunion. Thirty years had passed. I recognized him right away. He walked with a limp.
Playing sports is fun; getting hurt is not. Injuries like Mike’s last a lifetime. Here are five basic rules for sports-related safety. They will help you stay healthy and active for a long time. Take care of your body. Don’t be like Mike.
Warm Up and Stretch: Before exercising, whether it’s a pick-up game of basketball or the soccer finals, take a few minutes to prepare your body for the workout that’s coming. Warm up by jogging or doing jumping jacks to increase your blood flow and muscle temperature. Finish getting ready by doing some slow, gradual stretching to lengthen your muscles to prevent muscle pulls and tears. Take some time after your game to stretch a little so your muscles don’t tighten up and hurt later on. Talk to your coach to get some pointers on the right way to stretch before and after exercising.
Use the Right Equipment: Make sure you wear the right protective gear for the sport you’re playing. Almost every sport has specially designed gear to protect you. Talk with your parents or your coach to know what gear you need. A different style of helmet is worn in baseball, biking, skateboarding, football, hockey, and skating. Wearing cleats helps your feet grip the ground and avoid ankle and leg injuries when playing football, baseball, softball, and soccer. Other sports require pads (such as wrist, elbow, and knee guards); eye protection; mouth guards; or an athletic supporter (for boys). And don’t forget to wear the gear correctly. If you don’t fasten the strap on your helmet, it will fall off when you need it most. It doesn’t matter whether you’re practicing or playing the big game. Wear your protective gear!
Follow the Rules: Every game has its own set of rules. That’s so everybody playing knows what to expect. In football, it’s okay to tackle the guy with the ball. But what if someone tackled you in basketball? Not only is it against the rules, there’s a pretty good chance you’d be hurt. When everyone knows the rules of the game—what’s legal and what’s not—fewer people are hurt. Games are always more fun when you know and play by the rules.
Don’t Play Injured: Sure it’s important not to let your teammates and coach down, but if you’re hurt, no one expects you to keep on playing. Playing after you’ve been hurt will probably make the injury even worse and put you on the sideline for a long time. The same goes for playing again before an injury has time to heal completely. Be honest with your coach if you’ve been hurt and follow their advice about when to play again.
Drink Plenty of Water: Sweating makes the water level in your body go down. And when you’re playing sports, it happens really fast. Just like a car radiator, you want to keep the water level from dropping too low. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to begin drinking water. Take a bottle of water with you to soccer practice or to play in the park. Drink up.