For the past 14 years, MomsTEAM has been working to educate parents on ways to keep their kids safe playing sports.
One of the best ways to improve youth sports safety is to take steps to prevent injuries before the first practice.
Here's a checklist developed by the National Athletic Trainers' Association of 15 questions parents should ask their child's school or sports programs before they take them to their first practice, with links to to just some of the wealth of related MomsTEAM content:
1. Who are members of the school's sports medicine team? Find out who will provide care to your child in case of an injury, and ask to review their credentials. Many schools and sports teams rely on athletic trainers or parents with medical and first aid training and certification to keep kids safe. To avoid a conflict of interest , it is critically important that medical decisions are made by the school or sports program's sports medicine professionals (physicians and athletic trainers), not by the coach. Coaches  - and even the athletes  themselves - may unconsciously, or consciously, make decisions that favor winning over safety.
2. Does the school/league have an emergency action plan? Every team should have a venue-specific written emergency action plan , reviewed by the athletic trainer or local Emergency Medical Service. Individual assignments and emergency equipment and supplies need to be included. If an athletic trainer is not employed by the school or sport league, other qualified individuals need to be present to render care. Knowing that a school has prepared for an emergency will give parents peace of mind.
3. Is the equipment in working order? Make sure all equipment ranging from field goals, basketball flooring, gymnastics apparatus and field turf are in safe and working order. This also includes emergency medical equipment such as spine boards, splint devices and AEDs  (which should be checked once per month; batteries and pads need consistent monitoring and replacing). Accidents can occur in every activity, and that is why the AT should be on site after school to help ensure all equipment is safe and in good order.
4. How qualified are the coaches? A background check  should always be performed on coaches and volunteers.
For more on the signs of a good youth sports coach, click here .
5. Are locker rooms, gyms and shower surfaces cleaned on a regular basis? With the advent of MRSA and related bacterial, viral and fungal skin infections reported in recent years, it is critical to keep these surfaces routinely cleaned and checked for germs. Athletes must be discouraged from sharing towels, athletic gear, water bottles, disposable razors and hair clippers. All clothing and equipment should be laundered and/or disinfected on a daily basis. For more on preventing the spread of MRSA, click here .
6. Does the school have an AED and someone who knows how to use it? Many schools today have automated external defibrillators (AEDs) on site during competitions which, if used efficiently and effectively, can save a life and stave off a catastrophic situation. Ensure that the medical expert and other personnel know where they are located, how to use them and that they are placed on sidelines during both practice and games. For more about AEDs, click here .
7. Does the school qualify for a Safe Sports School Award (if not, why not)? Last year NATA launched the first-ever Safe Sports School award program . Created to recognize secondary schools around the country which provide safe environments for student-athletes, the initiative reinforces the importance of providing the best level of care, injury prevention and treatment, provides clear criteria to receive recognition, and encourages the sports medicine team to submit qualifications .
Preparing kids for sports participation:
8. Get a pre-participation exam: All athletes should have a pre-participation exam  to determine their readiness to play and uncover any condition that may limit participation. A young athlete's underlying medical condition can be exacerbated with vigorous, sustained physical activity.
9. Physical and mental preparation is paramount: Parents, with input from coaches and athletic trainers, should determine whether their children are physically  and psychologically  ready for the sport/activity level they're playing. A young athlete should not be pushed into something he/she does not want to do. If an athlete has been injured and is returning to sport, it's critical for him or her to have the right mind set and confidence to return to play and avoid repeat injury.
10. Share an athlete's medical history: Parents should complete an emergency medical authorization form, providing parent contact information and permission for emergency medical care for the student athlete. Check with your school/league to obtain the form.
Individual athlete concerns and considerations for the sports medicine team.
11. Beat the heat: Acclimatize athletes  to warm weather activities over a 14-day period. The goal is to increase exercise heat tolerance and enhance the ability to exercise safely and effectively in warm and hot conditions . It is suggested that for the first two days in sports requiring protective equipment, only helmets should be permitted; during days three to five only helmets and shoulder pads worn; beginning on day six, all equipment can be worn.
12. Use your head: There are between 1.6 million and 3.8 million brain injuries occurring in sports each year and 63,000 occur in high school sports alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Be certain the student athlete and medical team are well educated on concussion prevention and management and that the athlete is encouraged to speak up  if hit in the head and suffering from any related symptoms  including dizziness, loss of memory, light headiness, fatigue, or imbalance, to name a few.
13. Be smart about sickle cell trait: All newborns are tested at birth for this inherited condition, and those results should be shared during a pre-participation exam. Red blood cells can sickle during intense exertion, blocking blood vessels and posing a grave risk for athletes with the sickle cell trait . Screening and simple precautions may prevent deaths and help the athlete with sickle cell trait thrive in his or her chosen sport. Be aware of warning signs including fatigue or shortness of breath that may indicate an athlete is in danger.
14. Build in recovery time: Allow time for the body to rest and rejuvenate in between seasons. If the athlete has just finished the basketball season and has his or her sights set on baseball, make sure there is rest time build it to recover from the rigors of grueling months on the court. If athletes don't make time for recovery, injury can occur. Acclimatizing to the next sport, with appropriate strength, flexibility and balance training, and the supervision of an athletic trainer, will help ensure a healthy season ahead. For more about overuse injuries, click here .
15. Pay attention to sport-specific injury prevention: Any repetitive motion can lead to overuse injury. With baseball, it may be the turning of the torso and impact on the hip or the repetitive motion a pitcher goes through each time he or she throws a ball. These motions can put added stress on the joints, muscles or ligaments with sudden movement or rigorous activity increasing the change of injury. Following a protocol of flexibility and strength training  is integral to a young athletes' participation.
Sources: National Athletic Trainers' Association and MomsTEAM.com
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