School sports under the new normal | Sunday Observer

School sports under the new normal

4 April, 2021

With the reopening of schools islandwide on March 29 and the increasing focus now on sports by the Education Ministry, concerns have been raised by some parents as to what kind of sports their children should refrain from participating and what sports they should take part in, to reduce the risks of the Covid-19 virus.

The Sunday Observer voiced this concern to an expert in the field, who also advises parents and trainers on the kind of exercises children who have led sedentary lives for months should be introduced to in stages.

Head of Rehabilitation Services, MJF Charitable Foundation cc suggests home remedies that are easy to follow in the case of minor injuries and sprains, so that parents can treat their children at home rather than exposing them to crowded hospitals.


Q: Schools islandwide re-opened on March 29 after a long vacation due to the Covid-19 outbreak following a decision by the Government to ensure that all children should now continue their studies under the new normal phase and enjoy their right to education - from pre-schoolers to those sitting their GCE Ordinary Level examination and the Advanced level examination. Do you consider this a step forward?

A: Yes, having students physically present in school for in-person education is very important. Opening schools generally does not significantly increase community transmission, particularly when guidance outlined by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization are strictly followed. Schools provide a safe, stimulating and enriching space for children to learn, opportunities for socialisation, access to school-based mental and nutritional health services and opportunities for physical activities.

Q: However, outdoor sports are also likely to pose certain problems, especially if there are children who have still not got their Covid-19 Immunisation vaccinations for some reason. Your comments

A: Outdoor sports are safer than the indoor sports and less risky, but they must follow the safety guidelines strictly all the time. The coaches should consider reducing the size of the team, intensity and duration of the game and always maintain the physical distancing of the players.

Q: In such a case, do you recommend that certain sports activities be curtailed or postponed such as sports which bring the children to close contact with one another?

A: Sports that require contact or close proximity between players are risky. It is better to modify the practices and the activities. They can consider playing in smaller and same groups and not mixing the groups often, reduced intensity and time. The players and coaches can focus on strategies, strengths and weakness, individual skills and planning.

Q: Do you think that wearing masks and face shields when playing sports like rugger, tennis, football, are sufficient safeguards from the Covid-19 virus? What are the precautions you can suggest to minimise risks even while playing contact sports?

A: Wearing masks is very important but high intensity sports that involves running will be difficult to perform wearing the masks if it causes difficulty in breathing. We can minimise the risks by washing hands for at least 20 seconds before, after and often, by avoiding habits like spitting in the ground, shouting and removing the masks during the breaks and socialising.

Q: How important is outdoor activities for children?

A: Outdoor activities form an important part of their life and have long term benefits on their health. Adequate outdoor activity increases health and physical development by improving sensory development, reducing obesity and stimulating blood cells. It helps children stay fit and active which will benefit them in the long run. They can ward off health problems like obesity and heart ailments later in life. Participation in sports activities improves physical fitness, coordination, and self-discipline, and gives children valuable opportunities to learn teamwork.

Q: What outdoor sports should children play to get the maximum benefits?

A: I would say, always consider age-appropriate activities with children. Your child is likely to show natural preferences for certain sports or activities. Start there, keeping your child’s age, maturity and abilities in mind. For children of ages 6 – 9, organised activities, such as running, gymnastics, swimming and tennis are good choices. And for children above 10, are typically ready to take on complex skill sports, such as football, basketball, hockey and volleyball. Keep in mind, however, that growth spurts caused by puberty can temporarily affect a child’s coordination and balance. Before allowing your child to participate in a contact sport, consider his or her age, maturity, and physical size. Whatever sports your child participates in, ensure that he or she has a foundation of proper technique and movement.

Q: What about the risk of injuries from these sports? Are children more prone to such injuries? Why?

A: We need to take into the consideration about the risk of injury in returning to sport after long lockdowns and an extended period of reduced physical activity. The students should adapt a phased and gradual approach to get back to their sports and always follow the advice of their coaches. The elevated injury rates in youth sports are likely related to the nature of the games, intensity and duration. Jumping, maximal accelerations and decelerations, rapid changes of direction, and expressions of maximal speed as the players try to outmaneuver each other are inherent in team sports.

Q: How can their adverse impacts be reduced or avoided?

A: Fortunately, most sports injuries in children can be prevented. Some of the more effective ways to prevent these injuries include age-specific coaching, appropriate physical conditioning, and proper use of equipment. You can also prevent injuries by encouraging children to train for their sport, rather than rely on the sport to whip them into shape. Proper physical conditioning can go a long way toward keeping players off the injured list and on top of their game.

The other important strategies to prevent sports injuries are being in proper physical condition (strength and flexibility), wearing appropriate protective gear, making warm-ups and cool-downs part of the child’s routine before and after sports participation, staying hydrated and stopping the activity when there is pain. Coaches should assess the physical activities students were able to do during the lockdown as a starting point for the reintroduction of formalised training.

Q: What happens if a child who has been injured during an outdoor sports activity delays in taking treatment?

A: If treatment of sports injury is neglected or delayed it can lead to adverse outcome. When muscle is injured and not treated, it can lead to scar tissue formation and the muscle can lose its flexibility and neglected ligament and joint injury can bring about soft tissue (ligament) loosening and joint instability. This may lead to the repetitive injury and eventually more serious functional loss and will force you to get out of your sport.

Q: What injuries can be treated with Physiotherapy?

A: Sports Injuries may be hard to avoid with active children, and can range from minor cuts and bruises, to more serious sprains, fractures and broken bones. Most of the sports injuries are musculoskeletal and soft tissue related which can be treated with Physiotherapy. Managing and preventing injury in children requires a different approach to adults. Children’s bones are still growing and the presence of the growth plate or apophysis creates a group of conditions unique to children. Treatment involves corrective exercises and elctrotherapy but more importantly, finding the root cause of the injury and modifying techniques to prevent the issue from reoccurring.

Q: Are there home remedies for sports injuries?

A: You can treat some of the minor sports injuries at home. Follow the acronym R.I.C.E. as a first aid. Rest the area, apply ice, compress it with an elastic wrap and elevate it. Ice or cold therapy also known as cryotherapy, is one of the most widely known and used treatment modalities for acute sports injuries. Apply only for 10 mins but you can repeat it every 3-4 hourly.

Q: Is leading an active life a pre-requisite to doing well in sports? Why?

A: Yes definitely, staying active and healthy, reduce the chance of future injuries from occurring, and improve overall performance. A well-balanced diet, healthy eating habits, adequate fluid intake and good sleeping routines are also important to improve sports performance.

Q: Obesity in children is an emerging problem in Sri Lanka as it leads to early diabetes and other non communicable diseases. Is this due to lack of exercise? Diet?

A: Childhood obesity is a complex health issue. Lack of physical exercise in children is the main culprit in the startling rise of childhood obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and all other types of preventable medical conditions. Other behaviours that influence excess weight gain include eating high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and beverages, sedentary activities such as watching television or other screen devices and sleep routines.

Q: Can obesity adversely impact on children who wish to excel in the sports field? How?

A: Obesity can cause limitations of the cardiopulmonary and the metabolic systems, resulting in exertional dyspnea (shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing), contribute to the limitations in the functional capacity. In addition, the sedentary lifestyle often adopted by these children contributes to impaired exercise tolerance and poor sports performance.

Q: What exercise do you recommend for obese children to get down their excess fat?

A: Obesity in children often is the result of a sedentary lifestyle. Exercising to reduce weight is very important but need to be carefully monitored. Asking children to elevate their heart rates to a heightened aerobic exercise rate for 30 minutes or longer may be dangerous. Start with an exercise pace that resembles a brisk walk, rather than a jog. Warm up slowly for the first few minutes, let children take breaks as needed and make sure they drink water whenever they become thirsty.

Obese children may develop joint or back pain if they perform repetitive, high-impact exercises like running, aerobic dancing, jumping or skipping. Low impact exercises like cycling and Water jogging and aerobics are very good choices.

Children are more likely to continue exercise if it’s fun, for example playing sports together. Set goals and keep records so children can see improvement to have a positive impact.

Q: Your advice to students?

A: Sports injuries in children are on the rise. The growing concern is that many of these children ignore their injuries, and such inattention can worsen the issue over time.

Another trend is that children are focusing harder on just one sport to become ultra-competitive. As a result, many of them are pushing themselves beyond acceptable thresholds in their formative years, leading to injuries that are typically seen in professional players. When you are injured, your body is giving you a signal. Don’t ignore it; do the right things so that you can fully heal and continue to enjoy sports.

Q: Your advice to parents?

A: Active parent equals active child. To make physical activity a lifetime commitment which will result in healthier, happier, and smarter children, parents must start at home and make a concerted effort to encourage their children to go outside and play.