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Together, we are committed to providing the tools needed to excel on and off the court. With world-renowned pediatric sports medicine experts leading the conversation, we plan to keep you updated on the latest in injury prevention and health topics for your growing athlete.

With these tools, athletes are better prepared to advance to higher levels and to participate in sports throughout their lifetimes.

Injury Prevention and Health Tips provided by Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.

Balance Training

Stability, or balance, requires a complex coordination of several body systems. The balance required in basketball is considered “dynamic” because the athlete is rarely standing still. Each of the systems that help with balance can be improved with training. Dynamic balance training includes a combination of floor surface changes, movements, visual distractions, and other techniques. Improved balance has been shown to be associated with a lower risk of injury, therefore, young athletes should learn why and how to perform these exercises.

Around the World

Learn how to practice dynamic balance to avoid injuries.

Ball Slams

Learn how neuromuscular control helps to protect joints.

Single Leg Stance

Practicing balance helps your body respond quickly during sports.

Ankle injuries are common in sports like basketball, and studies have shown that girls are more likely to have an ankle sprain. Performing exercises for the ankle can help with injury prevention. Here are four categories of exercises that improve ankle stability.

  • Strengthening – Repetition of resistance exercises helps the muscles in the lower leg improve muscle strength as well as improves the athlete’s ability to control these muscles during activity. Body weight resistance is sufficient for young athletes. For example, try calf raises and ankle pumps.
  • Mobility – Stretching before and after activity keeps muscles and ligaments flexible which helps them respond to sudden changes in direction without an injury. For example, try runners (calf) stretches and ankle circles.
  • Balance – Activities that challenge the athlete to maintain stability while performing a task or standing on an uneven surface (see photo) prepare the athlete for unexpected movements during sports. For example, try standing on one foot while brushing your teeth or catching a ball.
  • Proprioception – The body’s ability to respond to a potential injury requires fast messages from the ankle to the brain and from the brain to the muscles to act quickly protect the ankle. Proprioception exercises enhance the ability to recognize and respond to an unstable position quickly. For example, try standing on one leg with eyes closed.

Some studies have shown that poor balance can be a predictor of ankle injuries in high school athletes. Learning to work on balance and proprioception as a young athlete helps to develop foundational stability. With a good foundation, ankle injuries are less likely to occur and the athlete can progress to more difficult skills and competitive environments.

A joint has several ways of protecting itself from injury. The bones that make up a joint are designed to create stability in certain positions. Unfortunately, sports place joints in unstable positions that put them at risk for injury. Soft tissues like tight ligaments and stretchy tendons and muscles have to work
together to provide stability in those vulnerable positions. Balance training is a good way to evaluate and improve the stability of joints. Watch this video to get started [link to single leg stance].

Basketball and other sports challenge an athletes’ body with many random, sudden movements. From changing directions to colliding with another player, an athlete has to respond to abrupt forces. Practicing dynamic balance activities can improve strength and coordination to reduce the risk of injury during these unpredictable moments. An example of a dynamic balance activity is to stand on one leg and perform activities with a ball, check out our how-to videos on ball slams and around the world. [link to each video]

Overuse Injuries

Some injuries happen suddenly, others happen over a period of time. These are called overuse injuries and they are caused by the repetition of certain movements that put stress on bones and soft tissues. Studies have suggested that 65-85% of basketball injuries in young athletes are related to overuse. Learn more about overuse injuries and how to prevent them.

Research is showing that athletes are more successful and experience fewer injuries when they play multiple sports. Specialization often leads to training multiple days in a row and competing year round without breaks, these have shown to cause overuse injuries and lead to early burnout. Mix in other sports to encourage diversity of skills and athleticism and keep the focus on fun until 12-14 years of age.

Running and jumping required in basketball can put stress on growing bones. In particular, a growth plate just below the knee cap is sensitive to repetitive jumping. Pain can develop because the muscles and tendons pull on the soft part of the bone. Fortunately this often resolves when it is recognized early. The treatment is focused on resting and limiting the activity that causes the symptoms.

As the ankle repeatedly bends and stretches during sports, the attachment of the calf muscle to the heel can become painful. Young athletes, typically around 8-10 years old, may complain of heel pain during or after activity. This is a symptom of Sever’s disease which is the inflammation of a growth plate in the heel. With proper rest, stretching and sometimes the addition of a heel cup in the shoe, this problem resolves without long-term complications.

Rule-based and Guideline-based Safety

Rules and guidelines are thoughtfully designed to meet several goals. From establishing an shared understanding of the competition to promoting a fair environment, rules prevent injuries. With the explosion of youth sports in recent decades, more evidence has become available that has shaped guidelines that further enhance the safety for young and growing athletes.

USA Basketball, together with the NBA, has developed guidelines for safe participation in youth basketball. Among the recommendations, and consistent with pediatric sports medicine literature, is an emphasis on delaying specialization in any sport, including basketball before the age of 14. One of the primary goals of early participation in team sports is to develop lifelong skills and generalized physical skills that promote a lifelong interest in physical activity. Together, these reduce burnout and overuse injuries that keep an athlete safe and playing more years.

At younger ages, development varies greatly. Therefore children playing up and down can increase the risk of injury to themselves or others. Until the age of 13, or the beginning of 9th grade, USA Basketball recommends that teams and play is organized by age. Though non-organized basketball play should not be discouraged with mixed age groups, however, vigilant adult supervision is indicated to ensure smaller children are not challenged beyond their abilities. Studies suggest that injuries are more likely in non-organized play.

Flagrant fouls and aggressive play increase the risk of injury. More importantly, permitting these behaviors distracts from an important focus for young athletes, having fun. Since a primary goal of early sports participation is to promote the enjoyment of physical activity, maintaining a positive environment is crucial.

Hydration

Basketball is a demanding sport often played in a warm environment, whether indoors or outdoors. Together, this causes young athletes to build up heat in their body. Unlike adults, they may not sweat enough to keep themselves cool. This makes hydration for them even more important. Drinking water before, during and after play is recommended for athletes of all ages. Therefore, parents and young athletes should learn how to plan ahead for proper hydration.

Recognizing and responding to signs and symptoms of heat illness is critically important. These may be present even when body temperature is not elevated. Quick cooling in an ice bath is recommended.

  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive thirst
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness
  • Prepare ice and water before training
  • Gradually increase physical activity at the beginning of the season
  • Don’t train while you are sick or have a fever
  • Limit caffeinated and sugary beverages
  • Continue conditioning in the off-season

This is dependent on whether the intensity is high or low. With low intensity events, drinking when thirsty should be enough. With high intensity events, like basketball or in very hot temperatures, here are some guidelines.

HIGH-INTENSITY EVENT WITH OR WITHOUT HIGH TEMPERATURES

Before

  • Water throughout the day, as needed
  • 16-24 oz. of fluid 3-4 hours before
  • 8-12 oz. of fluid 10-15 minutes before

During

  • 4-8 oz. of fluid every 15-20 minutes

After

  • 16-24 oz. of fluid per pound of body weight lost during the event

In most situations, water is the best choice for hydrating young athletes. Sports drinks are only recommended when participating in activities:

  • In very hot or humid environments.
  • With high intensity for longer than 60 minutes.
  • Sports camps, tournaments and double-headers.

When water isn’t enough, reach for a sports drink with a good mix of water, electrolytes and carbohydrates. For many young athletes, 30-60 grams of carbohydrates in an hour is all they need. You can find this information on any standard nutrition label. Otherwise, stick with water, start early and drink often. Watch this video to learn more.

Nutrition

The energy athletes need for practices and competition is supplied by the food they eat. If you put mud in the gas tank of a car, it does not run properly because it lacks the correct fuel. Athletes must supply their bodies with the correct “fuel” or nutrition to compete at their best and help prevent injury. The more energy, or fuel, an athlete uses, the more they need to consume to keep up with their needs.

Use these tips to plan ahead so that your athletes have nutritious choices for their backpacks when there is an after school practice or game:

  • Pack a water bottle for sipping throughout the day as well as during and after the event.
  • Take foods that help hydrate (i.e.: grapes, pears, oranges, yogurts).
  • Pack snacks with complex carbohydrates and protein to provide nourishment throughout the school day and after the event (i.e.: chocolate milk, apple slices with string cheese, trail mix).
  • Bring snacks with more easily digested carbohydrates for snacks right before and during the event (i.e.: fresh or dried fruit, applesauce, pretzels, fig bars).

A great way to help your young athletes develop healthy habits is to include them in the planning and shopping for their meals and snacks. These lessons can instill healthy habits early in life that carry on beyond youth sports and into college and adulthood where they are responsible for their own food and nutrition choices.

There are foods that make you fast, foods that make you strong, foods that make you sharp in the mind. Then, there are foods that make you sluggish by filling you up and not providing the right kinds of energy to help you perform. Here are a few simple tips to get you started on the right path to fueling your young athlete

  • Choose items from 2 food groups for each snack and 3 food groups for each meal.
  • Vary the colors of fruits and vegetables to get an assortment of nutrients.
  • Learn to read food labels.

Look at the serving size and be aware of how many servings are in the container. Choose items that have some protein and carbohydrates but little saturated fat and zero trans-fat. Steer away from products with a lot of added sugar. As a general rule, it is best to avoid foods that list sugar as one of the top three ingredients.

Please check back often for additional information on the latest injury prevention and health tips provided by Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.
To learn more about pediatric sports medicine and injury prevention, please visit scottishritehospital.org/sports.

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