How To Be The Sideline Parent Your Child Needs

The orthopedic surgeons at Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists know how important it is for parents to be present during their child’s sporting events. While most games go off without a hitch, there are times children sustain serious injuries from high-impact sports like football, lacrosse, or hockey.

Our specialists realize there is a lot of trust that goes into choosing an orthopedic physician for young, injured athletes, which is why they are committed to delivering the best possible orthopedic care. Regardless, mothers and fathers of young athletes have a tougher job: emotionally and financially supporting their players on and off the field.

Let’s face it, children are under immense pressure to succeed at their designated sport(s), and unfortunately there are a number of sports leagues out there that push young athletes past their breaking point. Additionally, parents and coaches face challenges with trying to help their athletes go pro, get a scholarship for college, or simply win a game. This pressure can make coaching and being supportive an arduous task. As a result, coaches and parents may feel overworked, and children feel pressured to perform, increasing their risk of orthopedic injuries.

It’s not just parents, children, and teens dealing with this stress; the unrelenting pressure for athletic trainers and coaches to succeed has also become a widespread issue. At Texas A&M, Former Athletic Trainer Karl Kapchinski said he was pressured by coaches to clear good players who were injured before they fully recovered. Another famous case out of the University of Illinois found Former Head Football Coach Tim Beckman guilty of repeatedly demeaning injured players to make them play through an injury.

There has been a rising trend of more cases like these occuring in high school athletics and younger sports programs as well. Unlike professional athletes, kids are in a tough spot because they are still developing and are often unable to identify when they’re seriously hurt. Additionally, young athletes typically participate in multiple sports throughout the year, which means they may not have the luxury of resting in between sports seasons.


Fast Facts


Did you know?

  • Children have growth plates at the ends of their bones. If the growth plate fractures, the child’s bones may not develop correctly or grow to an appropriate length.
  • Younger athletes who sprain an ankle are at a higher risk of growth plate fractures compared to adults who sustain the same injury.
  • Children’s bones and tendons are still growing, so they are more likely to be injured than adult athletes.
  • Repetitive motions and overuse cause the majority of painful injuries in young athletes.

Youth sports injuries are serious and can have negative long-term health effects. For this reason, our physicians developed a guide to help parents be supportive but remain alert while cheering from the sidelines.

Before Starting A Sports Seasons

Being a good sideline parent does not start in the stands of your athlete’s first game. It actually starts before you arrive at their first practice. When your child decides he or she wants to join a sports team, it is important they receive a sports physical to make sure they are healthy and in good shape to play competitively.

In fact, some club teams and schools require these examinations. While most pediatricians can perform a well-child physical, our physicians recommend coming into Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists for a sports physical specifically. These evaluations focus on a child’s developmental and physical health to protect them from sports-related injuries.

Next, make a checklist of equipment your child may need for his or her sport. Do they have a mouth guard? Athletic protector? What about padding and helmets? Coaches may be too overwhelmed to check for safety equipment, so make sure your child has everything he or she needs before entering a practice or game.

During Practice

According to the child sports safety advocacy group Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention (STOP), 62% of sports injuries among youth sports happen during practice, and about a third of parents are not as concerned about safety during practice as they are during an actual game. Practice is when we see a lot of overuse injuries, and parents can help prevent them by paying attention from the sidelines.

First, does the coach make everyone perform stretches? Dynamic stretching is a phrase parents may hear from time to time, and it means the body is constantly moving while stretching important muscle groups. Dynamic stretching is different than static stretching because it loosens up muscles while warming up the core body temperature to better prepare for practice. Here are a few of our top picks:

 Dynamic Stretching

  1. Arm Circles – Arm circles are a great way to warm up the shoulders. This dynamic stretch helps the shoulder and arm muscles prepare to throw, catch, or swing if needed. There are a number of variations, but this stretch is typically performed with the arms out like an airplane, moving in circular motions clockwise, then counterclockwise.
  2. Walking Lunges – Lunges warm up the knees and quads. Meniscal and ACL tears are some of the most common injuries our physicians encounter in athletes, and keeping the knee stable and supported can usually prevent them. A walking lunge is like a normal lunge where you take a large step forward and lower down until the knee is bent about 90 degrees. A walking lunge, however, simply involves switching the lowered leg with each step.
  3. Cardio – Dynamic stretching is great because it gently activates various muscle groups. Coaches may take these stretches a step further by including cardio elements. This gets the blood pumping so plenty of oxygen is being brought to the muscles to prevent injury and soreness. Young athletes can add cardio to their routine by running around the field or performing exercises like jumping jacks to get the heart pumping.

Each sport will require its own series of stretches depending on the different muscle groups being used. If coaches skip the warm up and go straight to practice, consider speaking with the coach about incorporating a few of these techniques. Otherwise, parents should have their child perform them at home before practice.

Even if a young athlete is warmed up properly, there is still the possibility of sustaining an overuse injury. As mentioned previously, overuse injuries are some of the most common types of injuries in young athletes. A coach may be able to tell if an athlete has an acute injury, but overuse injuries come on gradually. This is where a sideline parent can step in.

Parents are there on and off the field, so they are able to tell if a child’s pain lasts longer than usual. After a tough practice or conditioning session, it is normal for a child to feel sore. If the pain lasts for a while and worsens after practice, parents should bring their child into one of our offices to be evaluated. We often see the most overuse injuries in the knees or foot, but kids can feel pain in their shoulders or low backs as well.

Before, During, And After The Game

It’s important to keep tabs on your child’s behavior and physical state before, during, and after their game. Although injuries in youth sports are virtually impossible to avoid, there are things parents can do to reduce their child’s risk of sustaining a serious or life-threatening sports-related injury. Simply stated, parents should remain alert throughout the duration of the game.

Before the game, make sure your child completes their dynamic stretching sequence before stepping foot on the field. Once their stretches are complete, make sure they’re wearing any and all of their protective gear properly – the key word being “properly.” It can be easy to rush out of the house in a hurry and forget to check their wardrobe, so either make a point to check your child’s gear before heading out the door, or keep backup gear in the trunk of your car for those “oopsie” moments. When your child is stretched and ready to go, try to enjoy their time on the field. It can be easy to become worried or overwhelmed, but remember, the coaches and referees are there to make sure the game goes smoothly.

That reminds us - during the game, try to keep your emotions in check. We understand it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and vent your frustrations, but consider the health and happiness of your child. Maintain a positive attitude and please do not yell at the coaches or officials. Let them do their job. If things are getting dangerous, though, do not hesitate to step in and pull your child out of the game. As we referenced previously, there can be coaches, athletic trainers, and referees out there who are not as alert as they should be, so it’s important to stand up for your child if things are getting out of hand. Trust your instincts!

After the game, be sure to offer up some encouragement to ensure a positive mindset. It’s okay to be a little frustrated if your child doesn’t win his or her game, but remember, improving performance, increasing physical fitness, and building team skills are far more important than winning a game. Now, here’s the part that matters most: spotting an injury in your child. More often than not, your child will let you know when they’re injured. After all, most kids don’t enjoy being in pain and they’ll do what they need to make it stop! Nevertheless, there may be instances where your child doesn’t know whether or not their injury is serious, so they’ll try to “tough it out.” If you suspect something is wrong, there’s a chance you’re right, so try to watch for these signs of an injury:

  • Change in their gait (i.e. limping)
  • Favoring a body part over another (i.e. using their less dominant hand to grasp objects) 
  • Exhibiting painful expressions when using a body part
  • Shortness of breath that continues after the game
  • Complaining of headaches, dizziness, or lightheadedness
  • Difficulty sitting or climbing stairs
  • Visible cuts, bruises, or irritated skin
  • Signs of brain fog or confusion (i.e. slurred speech, misspelling words, trouble concentrating)
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Fever

If your child displays any of these symptoms, have them see an athletic trainer or visit an urgent care immediately. While your child’s injury could be mild, it’s better to be safe and seek medical attention just to be sure. Should your child be diagnosed with an orthopedic injury, have them see one of our specialists for treatment. Depending on the extent of your child’s injury, we may recommend a combination of treatments such as medications, injections, bracing, and minimally invasive surgery.  

What’s Next?

If your child sustained an orthopedic injury during their game, they’ll need to have it treated, and they’ll need time to recover. Physical therapy is a great option for athletes who want to regain full function and improve their flexibility and strength after having their injury treated. The physical therapists at Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists design rehabilitation programs based on the patient’s individual needs. Some patients will receive treatment that includes:

  • Functional and gait training
  • Joint mobilization
  • Movement analysis
  • Myofascial release
  • Therapeutic exercise
  • Soft tissue mobilization
  • Physical conditioning
  • Stretch training
  • Running and movement re-education

After their initial evaluation, our team may be able to provide advice regarding what may have caused your child’s injury in the first place. There are many reasons why injuries occur, but some of the most common causes include improper training, poor technique, equipment failure, or anatomical issues. If any of these are the case for your child, our team can review his pre-injury state and provide training recommendations to prevent future or additional injuries.

When it comes to being the best possible sideline parent you can be, the most important thing you can do is be present. Support your child throughout their playing career, and make yourself available for every game if possible. Enjoy these moments with your kids, and don’t be afraid to vocalize your concerns if you feel your child’s health is in danger. What does it take to be the best sideline parent your kid needs? Love, patience, and unwavering kindness.