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Prepare your kids for the go, go, go of sports activities

Although it is just the beginning of March, the temperate Florida weather means that children are outside, busily preparing for summer sports.

Any organized sports activity provides positive lessons that are are invaluable for success and happiness not only now, but later in life as well.

As a parent, it is important to work with your children, their pediatrician and the sports coaching staff to provide a safe environment.

It is important that parents become knowledgeable about any activities in which their children participate.

One of the first requirements for consideration of any sporting activity should be the pre-participation sports examination. During this visit with your pediatrician, your child will be evaluated for physical, mental and emotional development.

After the onset of puberty, many athletes in the same age group are at different developmental stages and vary in height, weight and muscle mass. Your pediatrician can best advise you which sports are the best match for your child's physical characteristics.

During this examination, the pediatrician will also determine if any disqualifying conditions exist. In certain cases, for certain sports, the presence of uncorrectable poor vision, a seizure disorder or other medical condition might preclude a child's participating. These decisions are never made lightly; parents should discuss all of the options with the physician.

After the preparticipation screening, injury prevention becomes a paramount goal. An important principle of injury prevention concerns proper physical conditioning.

It is important that young athletes understand that warming-up and stretching exercises are just as important as any other part of an exercise program, no matter what sport. Overuse injuries commonly occur when athletes try to do too much too soon, and adolescents are often guilty of that.

The primary goal of conditioning is to provide strength, agility and endurance to enhance performance. To do this, it is necessary to strengthen the muscle groups and joints that are involved in particular sports.

Proper equipment is a must in injury prevention programs. Many groups have recommended appropriate protective gear for various sports. For those at bat, and subsequently for base-runners, a helmet is essential. Ideally, it should contain double ear-flaps for enhanced protection. Rubber spikes, instead of metal, have resulted in fewer injuries. Soccer requires that shin guards be worn; in wrestling, it is important to protect the ears and teeth.

Protective gear is also important in recreational, non-competitive sports such as bicycling and rollerblading.

In Florida's hot, humid climate, avoidance of heat illness and dehydration are other injury prevention maneuvers. These illnesses are most likely to occur during the first two weeks of intense training when bodies have not yet acclimated to the heat and humidity.

It is important to teach youngsters that injury prevention is a part of good training. One should stress that proper injury prevention will ensure full participation in activities at peak levels of performance. Your knowledge, and demonstration, of appropriate techniques will teach by example, usually the best method.