Preparing your student athlete for back-to-school

[4 min read]

In this article: 

  • Advice from a Swedish sports medicine doctor on helping our kids return safely to school sports. 

  • Ways to help young athletes reduce anxiety about performance, including mindfulness exercises.  

  • Vaccinations are an important part of keeping young players safe on and off the field. 

Back-to-school time can be challenging for every kid and their family. Summer is coming to a close and the newness of the school year ahead can be daunting. For many of our young athletes, fall means getting back into the classroom and onto the field, court or pitch. 

We spoke with Michael Erickson, M.D., director of the Swedish Sports Medicine Fellowship about ways kids and their families can prepare for the school year and sports season ahead, reduce anxiety - and perform their best while still having fun. In addition to leading our Sports Medicine Program, Dr. Erickson is the team physician for the WNBA's Seattle Storm and Seattle University's Redhawks basketball team.  

Can you share a list of the top areas of focus parents and students need to be thinking about as they head back into school athletics?

  • Get a well child exam during your child's sports physical if possible. This will ensure that your child is up to date on immunizations and health maintenance.
  • If you have had COVID-19 recently, see your provider to discuss if you are ready to return to sports.
  • Children benefit from 60 minutes of active play a day. This keeps them healthy and ready for sports.
  • Teens and adolescents benefit from strength training in addition to regular practice. This reduces serious injuries (like ACL tears) and improved performance for all sports.
  • Make sure your child is drinking plenty of water, especially during hotter early fall practices and games.

What advice do you have for parents who may be feeling anxious about letting kids get back onto the field/court?

While there is always risk of injury in sports, the health benefits outweigh the risks, even in contact sports.  In addition to the direct health benefits of regular exercise, sports participation improves school performance, self-esteem, and promotes lifelong activity.  It also improves socialization and reduces the risk of depression. Sports have not been a risk for COVID-19 transmission. Cases of transmission within team sports are from meetings and social events, not practice or games.

In your view, how do sports help kids/students regain the sense of normalcy that may have been lost to them during the pandemic?

Sports provide a healthy, safe and easy way for children to socialize again. The relationships they make while participating in sports are likely as important as the benefits of exercise. 

What do you say to kids (or their parents) who may be anxious about performing well, or who fear that they may have lost some edge or ability throughout the pandemic?

No athlete performs well overnight. We have all been putting activities on hold during the pandemic.  If you feel you are behind, know your peers are feeling the same. Start with the part of the sport you like most, playing with friends, running, shooting baskets or goals. Play with your friends and family to get more comfortable. 

Do you have any advice specifically for parents of little kids who are just starting out in team sports this year?

With little kids, it’s all about being positive and having fun. Younger kids need play/fun focused practices. They are just learning the rules. Place development over achievement.  Try not to focus on the score or wins/losses but on learning something new and having fun.  Participation is the goal. 

What about for older kids, like high schooler and those in junior high?

Be adventurous. The best way to find a sport you enjoy or have talent in is to try as many sports as you can. You might surprise yourself with a talent you did not know you had. Try sports that you can enjoy your entire life, like tennis, golf or running.

What about vaccinations for student athletes? Should parents be concerned about how they affect performance?

Vaccines improve performance by protecting athletes against serious illness.  They can help athletes avoid illness that interrupts training or the season.  Even if athletes still get sick, the illness will be less than if they were not vaccinated. I recommend COVID-19, influenza and tetanus/pertussis vaccines for all the athletes I care for. 

Can you share any focusing or visualization exercises that may help young athletes mitigate anxiety when getting back on the field?

Mindfulness exercises are helpful in improving focus. This can be as simple as focused breathing or stating an intention of what the athlete wants to accomplish prior to a workout. Many athletes use visualization as a way of improving confidence and reducing anxiety. Envisioning doing a task or play perfectly can reduce anxiety and improve performance.  

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Learn more and find a provider

Have a sports-related injury or need to speak to a provider about staying healthy on the field or court? Contact Swedish Sports Medicine. Contact Swedish Pediatrics to help you find care for your young athlete 

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instructions and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Related resources

Helping Your Kids Handle Back-to-School Anxiety

It’s back-to-school time: Preparation includes vaccination

No more excuses! It's time for that wellness checkup

 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

 

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About the Author

Whether you're interested in physical fitness, an athlete looking for performance tips, or it's time for a full or partial replacement of knees, shoulders or hips, the Swedish Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Team is committed to providing you with expert advice on how to prevent injury, plan for physical activity and recover from orthopedic procedures. Our mission is to help you live the active lifestyle you want.

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