It’s July and that means football players everywhere are knee deep in summer workouts, overnight skills camps, and preparation for the start of two-a-day practices in August. As an athletic trainer, one of my main goals is to prevent sport-related injuries and illnesses whenever possible. There are few things parents can do to help with this ahead of time that can make a world of difference.
Before sending your son off to football camp or practice, it’s important to make sure that the medical personnel and/or coaches there have an idea of what medical problems to look for. This means filling out all registration, emergency authorization, and physical forms completely, with clear explanations of any previous injuries, heat illnesses, and ongoing medical conditions. If your child has asthma, epilepsy, diabetes, or a severe allergy, you may also want to touch base in person with the on-site athletic trainer, coach, or camp director.
These athletes need to have an adequate supply of their medications with them at all times, including when they are on the field and in the cafeteria. Leaving a rescue inhaler or EpiPen in their locker or dorm room can result in a life-threatening delay of treatment. Encourage your athlete to put their medication in the same place each time he is on the field (and share this location with an adult) so he knows exactly where to find it in an emergency, when he may be in distress. Also be sure to sit down with your child beforehand and review how to properly use his medication.
It’s helpful to send him with clear, written instructions and his medication in a Ziploc bag so that on-site medical personnel and coaches can easily see when medication should be given and how to give it in an emergency. Ask your pharmacy to put the prescription label directly on the inhaler or EpiPen if possible so it’s clearly identifiable.
Unfortunately injuries and medical emergencies do occur in football and when they do, athletic trainers, coaches and other medical personnel may need to talk with a parent or guardian immediately. It’s important to provide team or camp personnel with emergency contact information (including multiple phone numbers if applicable) for parents, guardians, and other trusted individuals. At least one of these contacts should be available at all times when your son is at practice or camp. If medical providers and coaches cannot get in touch with someone quickly, they may be forced to make medical decisions in your absence or treatment may be delayed.
Proper hygiene is paramount here and that starts with showering and wearing clean clothes for each practice or workout. During two-a-days and camps with multiple practice sessions, athletes should shower and change clothes—including undergarments—at the end of each session. As parents this means sending them to school or camp with enough shirts, shorts (including compression shorts if your athlete wears them), underwear, and socks to get through the day or week.
Clean, dry socks are especially important for preventing blisters. Ideally athletes are showering at the conclusion of their last practice before returning home or to their dorm so they will also need another set of clean clothes to put on afterwards. This helps to keep bacteria out of the car and home and the bottom line is that the longer they wait to shower, the greater the chances of developing a skin infection that can be spread to teammates, parents, and siblings.
Athletes will also need to bring along a shower caddy or toiletry bag with all the necessary items. Encourage them to carry it home frequently so that you can restock anything that’s empty or has gone missing. Football players should wash their practice jersey, pants, and girdle daily in hot water. Check with your son’s coach or camp director to determine if this is done by them on site or if it needs to be done at home. And if your athlete is using one bag to transport clothes to and from home each day, be sure to wash the bag as well. Putting clean clothes into a dirty bag equals dirty clothes!
Proper hydration for sports is like studying for an exam: cramming at the last minute is not recommended. Athletes need to make an ongoing effort to stay hydrated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s helpful to find out ahead of time if water will be provided at your son’s camp or practice, or if he needs to bring it with him. If bringing it from home, it’s important for your son to have a large enough container to get through the day, such as something 64 ounces or more. Athletes should also avoid coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks as these can all contribute to dehydration.
When an athlete comes to me feeling ill during a morning workout, one of my first questions is, "Did you eat breakfast?" The number of athletes who skip breakfast is staggering and sooner or later it will affect them, especially during hot weather and with multiple practice sessions. A piece of fruit, greek yogurt, and a whole grain bagel with peanut butter are good options and your son should try to eat within an hour of waking up. Additionally, athletes should eat within an hour of their workout or practice so you may need to send them with non-perishable snacks or meals. Generally speaking, athletes should be eating 3 meals a day, with 2-3 snacks per day, especially when they have multiple practices daily.
Another great benefit of proper nutrition is that is usually leads to better performance! The suggestions above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to football preparation and injury prevention. Join the conversation on our Facebook page and Twitter feed, or you can email us with questions at Sports.Medicine@NationwideChildrens.org. Let us know if there’s a future topic you’d like to see and in the meantime, best of luck to you and your young athlete out there on the gridiron!