Youth Sports and Diabetes

Youth sports are as ubiquitous to childhood today as Hula-Hoops were when today's parents were kids. It's hard to find a child who isn't involved in youth soccer, T-ball, Little League, gymnastics, or any other sport. Most children have a sport for every season, most social situations are centered around these activities. While managing your child in sports situations will take some time, you'll want to make it happen for them as soon as possible.

Coach on Board

Although by now you feel as if you've met with everyone on the planet, it is not the time to keep quiet when it comes to youth sports. It is your responsibility to tell your child's coach about her diabetes and to help him understand it. With the parents of your child's friends, you want to make sure the environment is safe for your child. With sports, your goal is simple: Help the coach understand that your child can be treated in the same way as any other player.

In the past, people thought that diabetes spelled the end of an athlete's competitive life. When Olympic champion (and fastest swimmer in the world) Gary Hall was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, his doctors and his coaches assumed he'd never compete again. Hall had the wherewithal to go out and find a new doctor, who helped him teach his coaches that diabetes does not mean the end of competition and sports. You may need to do the same thing with your child's coach.

After you sign your child up for the team and you're feeling a bit ill because you had to check yes under medical issues, call the league immediately and ask to set up a preseason meeting with the coach. This meeting should go over what it means for your child—on the field and the bench—to compete with diabetes. You'll want to put the coach at ease. Explain that you will monitor your child's blood sugar before (and sometimes during) games. Let her know that your child may need to eat on the sidelines and definitely needs to stay hydrated. Most of all, ask the coach to treat your child just as she would any other child on the team. Diabetes is not an indicator of athletic ability.

Fact

Go to www.jdrf.org and search for “athletes with diabetes.” You'll find photos, bios, and tips from some famous jocks. Your child will be able to see that having diabetes does not mean that he or she can't excel in sports and fitness.

Game Day

It would be nice to know exactly how it is going to go every time your child competes, but part of the excitement of sports is the unknown. This means that your game plan will have to be flexible.

Obviously, you are going to check blood sugars before any competition begins, but what are you looking for? A good rule is to expect your child to go into the game a bit above what you consider normal range. If your daily goal is not to go over 150, starting a game at 200 is fine. If your child's lower range is not to be below 80, and he is, say, 90 at game start, it's a good idea to give him some carbs to boost him up a bit.

Alert!

A red flag for absolutely not playing in a game or match is the presence of ketones. When ketones are in the bloodstream—no matter what her blood sugar level is—exercise can definitely make it worse. This is one time you must say no, unequivocally, to your child's participation.

As for planning for actual playing time, don't. Too many parents have bulked their kids up on carbs only to see them sit on the bench or pumped in extra insulin only to see them play for the entire game. Be fluid. That's sports.

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