Of all the youth sports seasons, winter is naturally when the majority of kids on a team get sick. While the cold and flu season certainly is a contributor, teammates often get sick because parents, players and coaches don’t always take appropriate steps to prevent germs from spreading.
Parents need to make smart decisions when sending their child to practices or games. I always use the rule of thumb that if I wouldn’t send my child to school in his condition, he certainly does not need to go play a sport, regardless of what he wants to do.
I also have the rule that if a child is sick enough to stay home from school, whatever the extra-curricular activity is on the schedule that night is not important enough to attend. It’s not always a popular decision, but I believe it’s the correct one.
All this being said, not every child will keep their germs benched at home. There will be times when players on your team just have bad colds. While each parent certainly needs to make an individual decision, I don’t think having a cold always warrants missing youth sports (or school).
As a result, there will be germs at youth sports practices and games – just like there are on school busses and in classrooms – but it’s up to everyone involved to help fight them.
Kids should never share water bottles, which is the biggest germ-spreader of them all. I always make sure to have extra bottles of water in my trunk in case a player forgets one. It’s still important to drink water, just not out of a teammate’s bottle.
You hear all the time people spread germs the easiest by shaking hands or through any skin-to-skin contact, and yet in youth sports, the most popular way to congratulate a teammate is with a high five. Just picture the germs shared every time there is a touchdown. Try to encourage teammates to invent another way to celebrate, one that is still not taunting but also not a passageway for germs.
Lastly, sometimes the responsibility has to fall directly on the players’ shoulders, especially as they get older and learn how to “fake” being sick or not. It’s important to teach players early in the long season that trying to play through an illness not only hurts the team at the time when a player can’t give 100 percent, but could also affect the team in the long term if that same player gets a more serious illness.
Hopefully by involving all three parties – coaches, parents and players – strategies can be implemented to prevent germs from spreading. It will make for a healthier, happier winter season.
Jon Buzby has been involved in and writing about youth sports for the past 30 years with perspectives as a parent, coach and board member. Jon is an award-winning writer and his latest book, “Coaching Kids Made Easier,” is available on Amazon. Send comments or future blog topics you'd like to see to JonBuzby@hotmail.com and follow him @YouthSportsBuzz on Twitter.