Sports are an important way for kids to get exercise, bond with peers, gain confidence and master skills. But they’re also a leading cause of injury. In children ages 5-14 years, sports injuries account for 775,000 emergency room visits annually, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and more than 3.5 million injuries. In high school athletes, sports result in more than 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year, according to American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine's STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention) campaign.

Reduce the risk of injury with these 15 tips from the CDC and the STOP campaign.

1. Children and adolescents should have a physical exam before starting any new sports activity.

2. An experienced or trained coach who understands and enforces game rules should always supervise games and practices.

3. Ensure that playing fields and environments are safe and well maintained (e.g. well-maintained playing fields free of tripping hazards, holes, exposed sprinklers, broken glass).

4. Make sure the team has a first aid kit.

5. Make sure kids are properly outfitted for the sport – proper protective gear (helmet, shin guards, knee pads); shoes that fit well and are appropriate for the sport; clothing that is not too loose so it won’t become tangled. Use mouth guards and face protection in certain sports to protect the face, head, eyes and mouth.

6. Kids should always stretch and warm-up before playing.

7. No one should ever “play through” pain. If injured, see a doctor. Follow all the doctor’s orders for recovery, and get the doctor’s OK before returning to play.

8. Coaches, parents and kids should know the signs of a concussion. All athletes who sustain a concussion should undergo an evaluation by a qualified healthcare provider before returning to play. Concussion symptoms can include:

  • Balance problems
  • Difficulty communicating, concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling emotional
  • Feeling mentally foggy
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Memory difficulties
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Sadness
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Sleeping more than usual or difficulty falling asleep
  • Visual problems - blurry or double vision
  • Vomiting

9. Kids should learn proper technique for their sport from their coaches, as most overuse injuries occur because of improper training or technique, points out STOP.

10. Match and group children based on skill level, weight and physical maturity – especially for contact sports, like football, basketball, baseball and soccer.

11. Kids should be taught how to incorporate strength training into their overall exercise program.

12. Kids should be taught how to hydrate adequately to maintain health and minimize cramps.

13. Kids should wear sunscreen during practice and games.

14. Kids shouldn’t play one sport all year-round, which increases the risk of overuse injuries.

15. Go to STOP and download PDFs for each sport your child plays to get sport-specific safety tips.

Sports can help your kids get exercise, boost their self-confidence and improve their mood and sleep, among other benefits. Use these tips to help them stay safe while they’re having fun.