Physical education and organized sports can make up an important part of students’ education and experience in school. Young people need regular exercise for optimal health, which may begin with running and jumping on a school playground. Children can also learn valuable lessons when they participate in both individual and team sports at school. While these experiences are beneficial, they can also be potentially dangerous without the proper safety equipment. Physical education and organized sporting programs must have gear designed to protect youngsters from play-related injury.
Overview of Athletic Safety
While children may seem like miniature adults, their growth and continually changing bodies puts them at a higher risk for sports-related injuries. Children are usually less coordinated and weaker than adults, which also makes it more likely that they will experience an injury while playing sports. A sports injury during childhood can have long-term implications, with residual effects of the injury possibly lasting into adulthood. Even a typical injury like a sprained ankle could be more serious for a child, especially if the injury involves a growth plate. For these reasons, any program designed for child participants must have stringent policies in place about safety equipment, to ensure that children always wear gear to protect them from injury.
Creating a Safe Athletic Environment
The environment in which children participate in sports or active play must be designed for safety. A school playground must have a shock-absorbing surface installed below equipment to prevent serious injuries from falls. Rooms should be neatly organized with signs posted to guide and inform students about safety policies and rules. There should be continual adult supervision, to oversee and manage students while they participate in athletic activities. Safety gear must fit students correctly, and it should be in good condition. Students must receive instruction about proper usage of safety gear to ensure that they use and wear it correctly.
Helmets and Head Injuries
Injuries from athletic participation make up about 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries for youths under age 18. A traumatic brain injury involves a severe jolt or blow to the head. A head injury could occur from a fall, a collision with another person, or from a sharp blow to the head. Brain injuries can be mild or severe, depending on the strength of the blow. A concussion is a common type of traumatic brain injury, occurring from a sudden blow. Physical education and sports programs can minimize the incidence of head injuries by encouraging sportsmanlike behavior among players. Players who use sportsmanlike behavior will be less likely to engage in reckless or unnecessarily rough play. Helmets are another effective way to prevent head injuries. Children participating in football, baseball, softball, hockey, skiing, inline skating, skateboarding, and snowboarding should always wear helmets.
Mouthguards and Oral Injuries
Mouthguards are plastic inserts that fit into players’ mouths to protect the mouth, teeth, lips, tongue, jaw, and face from sports-related injuries. Student athletes are approximately 60 percent more likely to experience a tooth injury if they do not wear a mouthguard during sports participation. For optimal protection, a mouthguard should be custom-fitted for the child to fit the youngster’s mouth precisely. To prevent associated issues from bacteria developing on mouthguards, students must clean mouthguards thoroughly after each use with a denture-cleaning solution. Students must also replace a mouthguard after 14 days of regular use or when the plastic becomes rough and jagged, whichever event occurs first.
Eye Wear and Eye Injuries
Eye injuries are also common for kids playing sports, with approximately 200,000 eye injuries occurring annually among student athletes. Approximately 90 percent of these injuries could have been prevented if children had been wearing protective eye gear. Possible injuries include corneal abrasions, detached retinas, orbital fractures, and even blindness. Children can wear polycarbonate goggles or masks, either alone or attached to helmets, as an effective way to prevent eye injuries.