Playing a team sport can positively impact your child’s development, but that doesn’t negate the safety concerns of playing sports outside in the winter. Cold-weather injuries can be serious, but they’re also entirely preventable. Learn more about the risks youth athletes face and seven tips to keep them safe.
When the temperature drops, bodies lose heat faster than they can produce it. The cold also affects the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, resulting in several cold-weather risks.
Cold weather slows the rate of nerve impulses in the body, slowing reaction times. This can be detrimental for athletes who must make split-second decisions to play well and avoid injury.
Winter weather affects ligaments, tendons, and other connective tissues, making them less malleable and more prone to tearing. This is similar to taking a rubber band out of the freezer, which will probably break if you stretch it quickly without letting it come to room temperature first. Playing sports without warming up is dangerous in any season, but the risk of injury is highest in the winter when “cold” muscles and tissues are tighter than ever.
Players still sweat in the winter—it’s simply less noticeable under all those layers. The humid air players exhale leads to further fluid loss, and cold air dries out the throat.
Dehydration during cold-weather activities carries the same risks as exercising in the heat, but athletes may not feel as thirsty. In fact, the cold reduces thirst by up to 40 percent, a phenomenon linked to constricting blood vessels in the extremities. If athletes succumb to dehydration, they may experience muscle strain and cramps.
The body needs enough energy to fuel physical activity, no matter the weather, but fatigue sets in faster in the cold. This is because low temperatures slow down chemical processes, including muscle contractions. As a result, physical activity in the cold demands more nutrients, even though the body doesn’t necessarily burn more calories.
Aim to feed your young athlete a carb- and protein-rich meal two to four hours before a game or training session. Then, after the first hour of exercise, refuel with a carb-rich snack every 30 to 60 minutes. Finally, eat carb- and protein-rich recovery food 30 to 60 minutes after exercising.
Hypothermia is when the body’s core temperature falls below 95 degrees F, and frostbite occurs when the skin and underlying tissues freeze. While these concerns only crop up in extremely cold conditions, it’s wise to be aware of them. If your young athlete starts shivering uncontrollably or complaining of numb fingers and toes, remove them from play and go indoors to warm up.
Being prepared and knowing how to react in cold-weather situations are the most effective ways to keep your young athlete safe as they enjoy their winter sport. Here are the recommendations to keep in mind.
Whether your child plays sports in the spring, summer, fall, or winter, you should get the okay from their doctor before the season begins. Physical exams are most important for young athletes who play winter sports. After all, the cold weather comes with added challenges, and a doctor can provide the all-clear or recommend added precautions based on any preexisting conditions.
The body is better equipped to cope with the cold if it has the proper fuel. Provide your young athlete with nutritious, energy-packed meals—not just on game day but every day, especially when they’re active in sports. Here are some breakfast and lunch ideas to try:
Warming up the muscles and joints with dynamic stretching is crucial to reduce the risk of soft-tissue injuries, especially in the winter. Exercises such as jumping jacks, arm circles, and walking lunges get the blood flowing to prepare the body for more strenuous activities to come. Instruct your child to warm up longer than usual if their sporting event is held outside in cold conditions.
Check the forecast before heading to your child’s practice or game. Then, dress them for the weather, incorporating layers they can easily add or remove as the temperature and their exertion level change.
Choose a thin fabric designed to wick away moisture as the bottom layer. Then, have a middle layer of fleece or other natural fibers to insulate against the cold. Finally, opt for a water- and wind-resistant outer layer to reduce heat loss and protect your athlete from the elements. In addition to these layers, bring extra shoes, socks, gloves, and other clothing to replace any items that become wet.
The slowed reaction times associated with playing in cold weather make safety equipment more important than ever. Make sure your child is properly fitted with a helmet, mouth guard, padding, and any other protective clothing their sport requires before taking to the field.
It’s easy to remember to drink water when playing sports on a hot summer day. However, the need to hydrate is less obvious when it’s cold outside. Encourage your athlete to take regular drinks, even if they aren’t thirsty, to reduce the risk of cramps and strains associated with dehydration. Warm liquids like tea are especially beneficial because they rehydrate while warming the body.
Injury-inducing falls are more likely to occur if the weather is awful or the field is wet and muddy. In unsafe conditions like this, it may be best to reschedule the event or move it indoors, if possible.
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