Can Kids With Diabetes Play Sports?

The Owen family has been playing with i9 Sports® since 2011. First with their daughter Kamryn, and now with their son Karson. Both of which have been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Kamryn was part of our cheer program back in 2011, and Karson is currently in his 5th season of basketball.

Diabetes wasn’t always a part of Karson’s life. He was diagnosed in February 2020. His parents, Treina and Anson already knew what to do since Treina and their daughter Kamryn also have diabetes. The difference now is that it’s 2023, and there’s more technology to help manage this condition.

With Kamryn, Treina and Anson knew to look for signs and symptoms. They knew to check her sugar if they saw her getting tired, if they noticed she was going to the restroom more often, or if she needed more fluids than usual. Blood glucose meters and insulin pens were their main line of defense then.

Now, they can check their blood glucose levels on their phones using the DEXCOM Follow app. The app works with the DEXCOM Continuing Glucose Monitoring system. Having the DEXCOM means little to no finger sticks, unlike Kamryn when she had to test 10 or more times a day. Karson can also use this app to track his levels through his smartwatch while playing sports. Though he has an insulin pump and new technology, they always keep a backup plan. They keep blood glucose meters and insulin pens handy just in case the tech malfunctions or gets knocked out of place during a game. They also continue to look for symptoms during games just in case Karson is too far from his phone to get the readings on his watch.

Unfortunately, not everyone is always on the same page when it comes to diabetes. Sometimes Karson has to explain his condition in order to keep his smartwatch or cell phone on him. The Owen family does their best to keep Karson’s teachers and others aware of his condition, but sometimes misconceptions can get in the way.

Common Misconceptions About Diabetes

People don’t quite understand how diabetes works as it’s an intricate part of how your body turns food into energy. This leads to quite a bit of misconception. The Owen family has been bringing awareness to their community while battling misconceptions such as:

Myth 1: You can’t eat sugar.

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t eat sugar or certain foods. It depends on how people choose to maintain their blood glucose levels. Some families find it easier to limit carbs and sugary snacks all together. Others allow their kids to have whatever snacks they want as long as they watch how much sugar they consume at one time. It’s not that you can’t have any sugar. For example, when your blood glucose is too low, you actually need sugary snacks and drinks to help regulate it again.

Myth 2: Your child ate too much sugar and that’s why they have diabetes.

You can be diagnosed with diabetes at any age for multiples reasons. Type 1 diabetes is when your pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin. Type 2 diabetes is when the body isn’t responding correctly to the insulin that your body is making. The exact cause of diabetes is unknown, but many risk factors are at play including genetics and family history, carrying excess weight, and not getting enough exercise. Sugar itself does not directly cause diabetes.  

Myth 3: All Insulin is the same.

Insulin isn’t always affordable or easy to come by which is why many people preach about Wal-Mart’s $25 insulin. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple and it’s not always about the price. The type of insulin matters too. For example, even within the same family, Treina, Kamryn, and Karson all use different types of insulin. So, not everyone can use the affordable $25 insulin and may have to use more expensive brands.

Myth 4: It’s not always food that causes a change in blood glucose.

Physical activity such as sports or even household chores usually lower your blood sugar because your body is using up all the energy you previously ate before that activity. In Karson’s case, that isn’t always true. Karson’s adrenaline from playing in a basketball game actually increases his sugar levels. This doesn’t mean Karson shouldn’t play sports, it just means you should always monitor blood sugar and not just assume your child may be low because they just played a sport.

Myth 5: Food will always help.

Chewing can be dangerous for those with Type 1 diabetes. If your blood sugar is extremely low, it can trigger seizure activity. Seizures can cause you to bite down on your tongue, meaning you want to try to avoid chewing if you can. In this case, it’s good to have fruit juices or even an inhalant form of insulin to take the place of food.

Karson, his family, and others with diabetes will likely have to counterargue these misconceptions often throughout their lives. But this doesn’t stop them from attending school, playing sports, going to birthday parties, or other things people do all the time.

Many parents, especially those that may be new to this, hesitate when it comes to signing their kids up for sports. Treina and Anson have experienced this first-hand and have some great advice to share with those who are trying to make that decision.

Treina and Anson’s Advice to Parents

1. Don’t be afraid.

It’s natural for parents to be nervous about their kids starting something new, especially when you add in complications diabetes may cause while playing sports. Treina’s advice is not to be afraid. You will have your nervous moments, but it’s worth trying! Just be sure to stay overprepared with extra snacks and drinks, blood glucose meters, insulin pens, and other tools your family uses to maintain sugar levels. Treina says the best way to calm those natural nerves is to make sure you always have a backup plan.

2. Teach your kids to advocate for themselves.

Make sure your kids are informed about their condition and you empower them! You may not be able to control outside factors, such as being picked on at school, so it’s best to prepare them for those scenarios and make sure they know it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

3. Build awareness­­.

Let teachers, coaches, and other personnel in your child’s life know about their condition. Know about certain policies your child may qualify for such as the 504 Plan, where among many other protections, a teacher can’t deny a child with diabetes extra trips to the restroom. This helps you advocate for your kids and helps them advocate for themselves when you can’t be there.

If you limit sugary snacks in your child’s diet to help manage symptoms, don’t be afraid to be “that parent.” It’s always acceptable to tell others, “No, my kid can’t have that snack, it has too much sugar.” Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself and your kids. You’re not only looking out for them, but you’re creating awareness in your community. Making others aware of the signs and symptoms not only helps protect your child, but it may help others in the future.

So, Should Kids With Diabetes Play Sports?

Ultimately, that decision will always be up to you and your family’s specific needs. But in general, kids with diabetes can still eat cake and play sports, they just need to know how to monitor their blood glucose levels. Schools and coaches need to be on board with your child’s medical needs as well since exceptions to some rules may be needed. Karson, for example, always needs access to his cell phone in order to track his blood sugar levels so it’s important that his teachers and coaches understand that.

Karson wanted to play “bat-ball” since he was a year old. “Once we found the correct outlet for our family, we decided to let him try it and he loved it. We knew about i9 Sports® because of our older daughter Kamryn. i9 Sports® was the perfect outlet for him because it was more organized than other younger rec leagues in our area, and the AAU leagues were too competitive for Karson. He wanted more one-on-one instruction so he could learn and get better versus only focusing on winning.”

For the Owen family, letting both their diabetic children play sports was the right decision for their family. Their kids showed the desire and passion for their sports, and as long as coaches and other personnel were aware, they feel like both Kamryn and Karson were in a safe and comfortable environment.

“Being involved with i9 makes Karson feel more like a regular kid. He doesn’t feel singled out like he may feel when trying out for school sports. He feels like he’s part of a community even though he’s on different teams with different people every season. We love that he always gets the one-on-one help he needs to learn new basketball skills and we appreciate that every player gets equal playing time. It’s been a great outlet for him to have a good time while still enjoying some form of competition.”

Karson has big dreams of playing in the NBA one day, and Kamryn went on to cheer in middle school and high school. So, to those of you thinking about signing your kids up for sports, take it from Treina- don’t be afraid! Find a sports organization that’s right for your family. Find an organization that makes you and your kids feel comfortable and give it a try!

Karson's whole family posing on the red carpet at a non-profit event for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Karson and his dad Anson wearing their royal blue "Hope Faith Cure Diabetes" shirts.
Karson posing with the VCU mascot. Both Karson and the mascot are flexing their biceps. The VCU mascot is wearing a black sweater vest with the VCU logo and ugly sweater print, and a VCU Santa hat. Karson is wearing a black hoodie, black sweats, and a black VCU hat.
Karson in his navy blue i9 Sports jersey showing off his latest basketball trophy.