With Labor Day just a couple of weeks away, fall sports programs at your school or in your community will soon be ramping up again. While organized team sports offer valuable opportunities for kids to learn teamwork, responsibility, and sportsmanship, they can also carry the risk of serious injury: in the year 2013 alone, 1.24 million kids were treated in emergency rooms as the result of sports injuries.

Keeping kids safe on the field or the court is a group effort. Parents and the kids themselves bear part of the responsibility, as do coaches and team organizers. As you prepare to get your teams in gear, keep in mind these five safety pointers:

  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. It’s still plenty hot here in southeast Texas, and even when the weather begins to cool off, adequate hydration is a must. Make sure plenty of fresh water is available before, during, and after all practices, and schedule water breaks for every 15-20 minutes. It’s also important that kids learn to recognize the early signs of dehydration, including headache, dry lips, dizziness, and cramps.
  2. Enforce a zero-tolerance policy on “dirty play.” When adrenaline is running high and the game is on the line, some kids may be tempted to bend the rules and take cheap shots to gain an advantage. Make sure all players on the team (and their parents) understand the importance of fair play and respect for others, and address infractions promptly and appropriately.
  3. Encourage kids to speak up about injuries. Sometimes kids will try to “tough it out” when they suspect something is wrong; some may even see it as a sign of weakness to admit being injured. Have your coaches emphasize to the kids that their health is more important than winning any game, and let them know it’s OK to speak up any time they suspect an injury.
  4. Train coaches in injury prevention and first aid. All coaches should receive basic training in the prevention, recognition, and initial treatment of sports-related injuries. Make sure that a complete first aid kit is readily available at all times, and that it contains supplies appropriate to the sport (remember to check expiration dates regularly).
  5. Check surfaces. Uneven surfaces, potholes, and obstructions pose unnecessary injury risks for the whole team. Before every practice, make sure someone walks the entire field or court to ensure that the playing surface is free of hazards.

For more information on preventing kids’ sports injuries, check out the Safe Kids Worldwide sports page at safekids.org/sports. By taking a few precautions and putting some sensible rules and policies in place, you can ensure that the fun continues all season long — and keep injuries at bay.