Playing it safe

Children passing ball
Author:  Cathy Reid
Issue: Volume 7 Number 2

Creating a safe and positive environment for children at every level of sport in Australia is the aim of new safety guidelines developed by Sports Medicine Australia.

According to Annabel Sides, Sports Medicine Australia’s Health Programs Manager, the Safety Guidelines for Children and Young People in Sport and Recreation provide the information necessary to ensure safer sporting practices and to reduce the risk of injury.

‘The guidelines include strategies for people involved in community sport to help provide a safer environment for children and young people,’ Sides said.

Australian studies estimate that around one million Australians injure themselves while playing sport each year, with children aged 5 to 14 years incurring the highest rate of injuries.

‘Approximately 50 per cent of injuries are preventable. The benefits of being involved in physical activity far outweigh the risks, as children are provided with lifelong access to physical activity and a reduction in the risk of chronic illness, mental illness and obesity.

‘Statistics show a quarter of parents prevent their kids being involved in sport due to injury fears. It is therefore critical to provide a physical, emotional and social environment to encourage kids to become and stay involved in sport.’

The guidelines provide clear and practical advice about standard safety practices based on good preparation, correct techniques, appropriate equipment, safety gear, modified rules and most importantly, a safe environment.

‘The keys to providing a safe environment are making sure you have adequate equipment and an injury-prevention program, and that children warm up and cool down,’ Sides said.

‘It is also important to have planned training sessions that are appropriate to the skill and age level, a balanced competition and safety personnel available so if something does happen it is treated appropriately.’

It is a shared responsibility.

‘The biggest influencers of children are the activity providers, coaches, teachers, officials and parents. All these groups have direct impact on the environment and how it will play out for those kids involved.’

The information provided in the guidelines is comprehensive and includes a list of ten points to remember:

  1. Clubs, schools and providers should ensure that they identify, manage and monitor the risks involved in sport and recreation activities.
  2. An estimated 50 per cent of all sports injuries are preventable.
  3. Coaches should have at least an entry-level qualification from a coaching course conducted by their national or state sporting organisation.
  4. A first aider should be present at all sporting events for participants under 16 and a sports trainer at events for participants over 16. Any complaint of pain, tenderness, limitation of movement or disability should be promptly referred to a qualified person.
  5. Appropriate and properly fitted protective equipment, clothing and footwear should be used at all times.
  6. The environment and facilities should be inspected and made safe before participation.
  7. All coaches and teachers must be aware of the medical history of participants and should conduct a pre-season medical and activity questionnaire.
  8. Warm-up, cool-down and stretching should be included before and after all participation.
  9. Activities should be well planned and progress from easy to difficult.
  10. Match the physical and mental maturity of the child to the level of participation, complexity of the task and the game rules.

The Safety Guidelines for Children and Young People in Sport and Recreation, plus other sports injury-prevention resources, are available on the Smartplay website (see related links).

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