While approximately 3.8 million children are treated for sport-related injuries each year, many of these injuries are preventable.

This was the message for young athletes, coaches and parents attending a recent sport safety clinic at the Pyramid Sports Performance Center in Lehighton, offered by Carbon County Safe Kids. The clinic addressed common safety issues for all types of sports, including hydration, concussion prevention and response, overuse and acute injury prevention, and the use of proper safety equipment.

"We don't want to stop kids from taking part in sports. Sports are good for the kids and for the community," said Steve Strauss, the director of sports performance at Pyramid Sports Performance. He stressed that proper safety techniques and coach training are important to ensure that young athletes have a safe, fun athletic season.

One of the most serious topics covered during the workshop was concussions. Brain injury is the leading cause of sport-related death in children, and even mild concussions can have a serious affect on a young athlete's brain development and academic function.

Panther Valley athletic trainer Mark Shanton walked the crowd through a typical concussion evaluation, asking volunteer Carter Strauss questions such as what day of the week and year it is, then asking him to repeat back lists of words and random numbers to test his short-term memory and concentration. He also tested the boy's balance and coordination, which can be affected by a concussion.

"We're checking the different parts of the brain that might be injured, to check for bruises," Shanton explained. He added that while it's good for parents to recognize the most common symptoms of a concussion, it's important to seek prompt medical care if a concussion is suspected. "As coaches and parents, always err on the side of caution and have your athlete evaluated by a physician," he said.

Physical signs of a concussion may include headache, nausea or vomiting, ringing in the ears, confusion, and loss of consciousness or memory loss.

"If you can't remember how you got hurt, I'm a little bit concerned," he added.

Members of the Brain STEPS' brain injury school re-entry program, offered by the Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit, also offered information about students returning to school after a concussion or other brain injuries.

"After concussion, kids look the same," said Natalie Reichl, an educational consultant for CLIU 21 and the team leader of Brain STEPS. She noted that many schools and teachers aren't sure how to handle concussion injuries, which can lead to trouble concentrating, taking notes, and understanding social cues.

"Sometimes it's hard for teachers to understand what a student with a concussion needs," she said. "Lots of concussions will heal. But if you're having problems at school, call us."

Other topics addressed included overuse and acute sports injury, which is happening more often as young athletes move to intense year-round practice and competitions.

"A lot of athletes don't have an off season. They have no time to rest," said Brian Fetterman, the head strength and conditioning coach at Pyramid Sports Performance Center. He noted that many athletes now play a fall, winter and spring sport, which can be a positive thing if they take time to rest between each sport.

"Playing other sports will actually allow you to become a better athlete," said Fetterman, noting that rotating between sports can reduce the risk of injury while also improving an athlete's fitness levels. It's also important for athletes to continue moderate training throughout the year, to prevent acute injuries once intense practices begin each year. "You should be in shape all year round. You shouldn't wait until 8 weeks before the season to start training," he said.

Fetterman added that for younger athletes, the priority for parents and coaches should be safety and fun first. Athletic performance should be secondary at this level.

"Make sure they enjoy what they're doing, and playing sports for the right reasons," he said, noting that about 70 percent of young athletes drop out of sports by the age of 13.

The evening ended with a chance for young athletes to learn proper warm-up and stretching techniques.

Mindy Graver, chairperson of Carbon County Safe Kids, announced that local coaches attending the program are eligible to receive a free sport safety app from Carbon County Safe Kids which includes access to signs of concussion and information about other common sports injuries. Safe Kids will donate 100 apps to local coaches this year.

The program was funded by a $1,500 Safe Kids USA grant, sponsored by Johnson and Johnson. This is the second year that Carbon County Safe Kids has been awarded a grant for this event, and is one of only 60 sports safety programs receiving a grant from Safe Kids USA this year.

The Carbon County Safe Kids Chapter is a member of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global network of organizations dedicated to preventing unintentional injury. Safe Kids was founded in 1995.

This sport safety clinic will be offered again on Tuesday, July 31 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Pyramid Sports Performance Center, 230 Ochre Street in Lehighton.