Growing up, I took part in my fair share of sports, and enjoyed them immensely. Besides the joys of teamwork and the camaraderie that comes with being on a team with your friends, it was just a lot of fun. It did not, however, take up an inordinate amount of time, save for a couple of afternoons and maybe one day over the weekend. When the season ended, we spent our summers at the beach or riding our bikes to a friends house.

Now that I’m a parent, I’m struck by the time commitment that many sports require. Maybe it’s due to where we live out in the country, or the nature of the sports, or simply a by-product of the times we live in, but I see a lot of kids who spend an inordinate amount of time either playing sports, practicing, or traveling, in some cases for hours, to and from games and practices.

When the season is over, there are summer and winter leagues to fill in the gaps, and camps to help kids hone their skills and give them an advantage when the season resumes. It’s almost as if being on a team has moved to the forefront of their lives in terms of importance. Not that I’m in any position to pass judgment, but it seems excessive at times, and other aspects of their lives seem to be compromised, including school, other extracurricular activities, sleep, and a healthy diet (let’s face it, healthy eating on the road is not easy).

Now, it just may be that one more aspect of a kid’s life may be in jeopardy: their health. With all the focus and time spent on sports, it is easy to overlook a disturbing rise in sports related injuries. In fact, experts are calling it a “silent epidemic” affecting our nation’s children stems from their excessive participation in athletic activities. Part of the problem, it seems, is that more and more children are involved in sports throughout the year, in addition to playing on more than one team during a single season, rather than taking the necessary break to give their body adequate time to recover, thus adding to the stress and strain that increases the likelihood of injuries from trauma and chronic overuse.

These health concerns make it all the more important for parents to be aware of the situation and to oversee their children’s activities, especially in light of the fact that they are still developing and growing. For these young bodies, orthopedic injuries that they incur now can result in a lifetime of pain and suffering.

So with this in mind, it might be instructive for parents to keep a few things in mind when enrolling their kids in various athletic activities.

Know their abilities

Some kids are simply better suited for certain sports than others. After all, no two kids are the same, so they shouldn’t all take part in the same activities. Take some time to know not only what their strengths are, but what they enjoy, factoring in age and ability.

Don’t overdo it

Over scheduling may be commonplace for the modern family, but as every athlete knows, fatigue not only diminishes performance, but increases the chances of being injured. So even if your child wants to take part in numerous sports, as parent, you have to set limits in order to do what’s best for them.

Embrace good nutrition

A healthy diet is even more important for a child who is also an athlete. Sure, it’s difficult to eat healthy meal while driving around town, but healthy snacks are easier to pull of than you think, and often it becomes an issue of convenience.

Watch, don’t listen

Be on the lookout for injuries in your child, regardless of what they tell you. Most of the time, the watchful eyes of a parent can recognize when an injury has occurred, and you have the authority to make them rest and recover.

Give ‘em a break

The idea of participating in everything under the sun has some appeal, but kids need down time, at least to recover from the rigors of exertion, but also to just have time to be a kid. So give them a break, even if they say they don’t want it.

Prepare

Stretching and warming up are important precursors to any activity (especially when you’re as old as me), so make sure your kids understand this and take them seriously.

Sleep is a great thing

Make sure your kids get enough sleep, especially during the sporting season, before and after games. This may be given if they are exhausted, but kids often get a mysterious burst of energy from out of nowhere and bedtime may need to be enforced.

Protective gear

Extra care should be taken to ensure that protective gear is properly fitted and functioning in the manner that it was intended.

Have fun

Always keep in mind the most important thing about sports, and that is they should be enjoyed and everyone involved should be having fun. This applies to parents, as well.

Through greater awareness, parents can make a big difference in whether or not their kids can avoid injuries, and ultimately, to enjoy themselves, because let’s face it, whatever activities we take part in, it’s hard to really appreciate them when we are hurt.

For more information on avoiding sports injuries, speak with your pediatrician and visit the website for Kid’s Health.