No matter which sport your kid loves, there are bound to be risks—and ways to avoid them.Football
Common injuries: Sprains, strains, fractures, pulled muscles, torn ligaments, internal injuries, concussions, heat stroke.
Must-have gear: New or recently reconditioned helmet, mouth guard, shoulder pads; pads for chest, forearms, elbows, knees, thighs, shins; proper shoes.
Playing defense: Kids should block and tackle only who they can see; dropping their heads and hitting helmet-first increases the risk of head and neck injury, says Brian Robinson of the National Athletic Trainers' Association. Conditioning knees and ankles can protect those injury-prone areas.Baseball/Softball
Common injuries: Overuse injuries, impact injuries and fractures from being hit by the ball or sliding into bases.
Must-have gear: Batting helmet, preferably with face shield; breakaway bases that decrease the risk of sliding injuries; reduced-impact balls; protective cup; proper cleats.
Playing defense: Helmet should fit snugly without interfering with vision. Clear the field of glass and rocks, and fill in holes where kids could twist an ankle. Consider using wooden bats—getting hit by a bat is one of the most common causes of injury, and metal bats swing faster and hit harder.Ice Hockey
Common injuries: Shoulder and upper arm injuries, facial injuries, concussions, lacerations.
Must-have gear: Helmet with a face mask and four-point chin strap; mouth guard; pads for shoulders, elbows and shins.
Playing defense: Consider joining a league that uses the fair-play rule system—without one in effect the injury rate is two to four times higher.Basketball
Common injuries: Sprains, strains, fractures, scrapes, cuts, dislocations, injuries to teeth.
Must-have gear: Mouth guards, eye protection, proper shoes.
Playing defense: Make sure floors are swept before practices and games to prevent slipping. Complain if referees overseeing girls' games don't take fouls seriously: Women's basketball has the highest rate of injury caused by illegal activity.Soccer
Common injuries: Sprains, strains, contusions, abrasions, fractures, bruises, cuts, scrapes, concussions.
Must-have gear: Shin guards, proper shoes.
Playing defense: Train kids to keep their knees aligned over their toes when landing after a jump to avoid stress on the joints. Headed balls should be struck using the forehead at the hairline, with the chin tucked toward the chest and arms in front of the body for better balance and protection.Track and Field
Common injuries: Overuse injuries, sprains, strains, scrapes.
Must-have gear: Proper shoes.
Playing defense: Check the soles of shoes: If the black tread has worn down, you should replace them. Pay special attention to pain over a bone—a sign of a stress fracture.Gymnastics
Common injuries: Sprains, strains, fractures, dislocations, abrasions, lacerations, concussions.
Must-have gear: Apparatus that's regularly inspected, ideally multiple times a year by facilities, and before every use by coaches.
Playing defense: Adult supervision is essential. Coaches and competitors should know how to adjust and inspect equipment.
Originally published in the September 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.