Playing it safe: A checklist for parents
By Debra Alban
Before beginning a sport, children should get a physical at the doctor's.
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(CNN) -- Organized sports can be a great way for children to socialize and keep fit, but they are not all fun and games, health officials say. Participation carries the risk of physical injuries, and the pressure of competition can sometimes take a mental toll on children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that at least 20 percent of emergency room visits stem from injuries suffered while participating in sports, recreation or exercise, and 40 percent of those visits involve children younger than 15.
Here are some guidelines you need to know before your son or daughter takes the field:
"Kids need to have ownership of the decisions they make," says Dr. Richard Ginsburg, a sports psychologist at Harvard medical school.
Choosing a sport and deciding how long to stick with it should be the child's choice, because the sport loses its fun when motivation does not come from within, he says.
Ginsburg, author of "Whose Game Is It, Anyway?: A Guide To Helping Your Child Get The Most From Sports, Organized By Age And Stage," says parents must also recognize the difference between healthy encouragement and pushing too hard so that they are more responsive to the child's mental needs.
Your child should undergo a physical before beginning a sport, according to Children's Hospital Boston. The exam can pinpoint your child's physical strengths and weaknesses, which might help steer him or her toward a particular sport.
It might also reveal a condition in your child that you should prepare to deal with. For example, a 2004 study in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that 75 percent of children with asthma were not prepared for an attack brought on by exercise.
It is also important to know how competitive the sports league is, Roberts says. For example, is it the sort of league where everybody plays, or is it play-to-win?
Additionally, if the physical challenge of the sport is more than the child can handle, it can place a pressure that may be too intense for some kids, Ginsburg says.
And, finally, as Dr. Ginsburg advises, "Make sure the [kids] are having fun."
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