Winter can make couch potatoes out of the best of us. If you've been wanting to get your kids back in the game, the first few warm days of spring coupled with this month's college basketball craze make now a great time to start: Why not capitalize on the March Madness hype to encourage your child to get some exercise and camaraderie on a spring sports team?
Enrolling your child in a sport like basketball, baseball or track and field is a great way to ensure he or she stays active and engaged. Having type 1 diabetes adds a layer of planning to the process, but it certainly doesn't mean your child can't participate -- in fact, sports can lower kids' blood sugar, blood pressure and stress levels. Student athletes also enjoy improved muscle tone and strength, better weight control and higher self-confidence. Of course, there are considerations parents need to take into account beforehand. Here are a few tips from a certified diabetes educator and an exercise physiologist to help level the playing field.
Learn About the Sport
No sport is off-limits to a child with type 1, but endurance sports such as long-distance running or cross-country skiing require a bit more pre-planning to avoid hypoglycemia, says Chris Ruden, a personal trainer in Boca Raton, Fla., who has type 1 diabetes himself. If you are considering a school-sanctioned team, make sure that participation in school sports is covered in your 504 Plan.
Sit Down With the Coach
As soon as your child selects a sport, the most important thing to do is proactively make coaches aware of your child's type 1 diabetes status, says certified diabetes educator Donna J. Marvicsin, Ph.D., P.N.P.-B.C., a clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing. "Talk to the coach about how to identify your child's unique symptoms of low blood sugar," she advises. "For many children, this will show initially as hunger, shakiness or dizziness. It's especially important that coaches are able to identify these signs in younger children, as older children are generally better able to express that they're experiencing a low."
If early signs are overlooked, let coaches know that later red flags might include the child being visibly upset or angry, crying and/or being argumentative, says Marvicsin. Educate the coach about what to do in this case -- that is, make sure blood sugar is tested and lows treated immediately. "Parents should inform coaches of where to find the child's supply pack, which should contain snacks, juice, water, testing strips and treatment for severe low blood sugar," she continues.
Before the coach trains your child, you will need to train the coach on diabetes care basics. Ruden suggests providing written instructions the coach can refer to when needed. "In case of a low, the coach should have glucose tablets readily available and know when to recheck blood sugar to make sure it's back in range," he advises. Aside from these few considerations, stress to the coach that he or she can feel comfortable treating the child the same as every other team member.
By taking these simple precautions, you can help ensure your child's sports experience is a positive one. Let the games begin!
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the "typical" experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.
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