There is a subtle change happening across America’s youth sports scene. In recent years, as ESPN reported, Pop Warner football – leagues for children ages 5 to 16 – has experienced a 10 percent drop in participation, as more parents are removing their children due to rising concerns of concussions. At the same time, though, youth hockey is actually adding numbers. According to sportscaster and writer Chris Peters, the age-6-and-under hockey group actually grew by 4 percent between 2013 and 2014.

“Youth hockey participation grew by 4% between 2013-2014.”

What’s so intriguing about these figures? Both sports can be rather dangerous. Though football statistically has more concussions than hockey, according to sports awareness group Head Case, hockey and football still outrank other activities in due to the sheer number of head injuries. As such, parents need to make a concerted effort to protect children by gifting them with the hockey safety protocols. Here are a few helpful tips for the next time your child steps on the ice:

1. Get the right equipment: Your child’s coach will help you pick out the necessary equipment based on your child’s age level and what position he or she will end up playing. However, it’s also your responsibility to make sure the equipment fits properly, as ill-fitting pieces can frequently lead to injuries. The skates are perhaps the most important part. Too loose and they can lead to a broken ankle. Too tight, on the other hand, and your child might experience issues with circulation. Meanwhile, shoulder, knee and elbow pads should all rest firmly in place but still allow for fluid movement.

2. Clean your child’s gear often: Gym bags may be handy, but they often begin to smell after just a few practices and matches. That foul scent is actually caused by bacteria, and those nasty little microbes can make their way onto your child. That’s why it’s so important that you clean your child’s equipment after every single game. Jerseys and pads can all be washed in a standard washing machine. Helmets and gloves need to be wiped down with an antibacterial agent. You can let the child’s mouthguard soak in mouthwash overnight. Finally, you should make sure to spray down the entire bag with disinfectant, including any pockets.

3. Make sure your child listens: Hockey is a fun game, but it can be quite dangerous. Not only can your child slip on the open ice, but he or she can also fall into the boards or get checked by another player. With so much risk for injury, you should take every chance to explain carefully to your child the importance to listening to his or her coach. These well-trained individuals will know your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and won’t put them into any position that they are not physically capable of handling. Coaches are also great at reading the ice and knowing when certain children need to stop and take a breather.

“Stretching is a huge part of safeguarding yourself from injury.”

4. Warm up and stretch: Just like any other physical activity, stretching is a huge part of injury prevention. Make sure your child knows how to stretch properly before every game, and don’t let them step on the ice until they’ve done so. Depending on the child’s age, you may want to walk them through some of the exercises to supervise if each one is done properly. As an extension of this, ask your children if they’re in any pain or discomfort before playing. They might miss the game, but it’s a bad idea for young athletes to play while injured.

Sports injuries are bound to happen at some point in your child’s life. Fortunately, there are CareWell Urgent Care locations across the East Coast. With a team of highly trained physicians at each center, CareWell can treat almost any sports-related bump or bruise.