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Dr. James Andrews Promotes Safe Return to Youth Sports

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As young athletes in Florida and nationwide resume coronavirus-delayed preparations for their upcoming sports seasons, they, their coaches, and parents, are getting advice from one of the country’s pre-eminent sports physicians.

“Safe, slow and steady” is the mantra from Dr. James Andrews, an orthopedist who founded the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, and has treated a large number of high-profile athletes.

“They’ll try to come back and start right back where they were when they were in good shape and when they were playing before, and they’ll try to ramp up too fast,” Andrews said. “So the injury rates will go up and we’ll have a big spike. So what we’re trying to promote is, number one: educate the coaches and the young kids they have to come back in a gradual pace.”

To that end, the Institute has produced a video aimed at making such reminders, which says more than 60% of sports injuries – in three categories – are preventable.

“Concussions, heat illness and overuse injuries; they can all be extremely hard to spot, and they can all be extremely dangerous – both in the short-term and the long,” the narrator says. “And the fact is, they can happen to anyone; rich or poor, black or white, boy or girl.”

Dr. Andrews is out with a shopping list of what to do to increase the chances of a safe return to the field or court. First – be aware of your body and focus on individual needs.

“Each one of these kids has a different need, and it depends also on what sport they’re involved in,” said Andrews. “For example, youth baseball. If they come back the first day and go practice hard in the heat, there’s a problem with not being acclimated to the heat and have a heat stroke.”

Along with settling into a hot-weather routine, it’s vital that young athletes are cleared for participation.

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Dr. James Andrews

“They have to maintain daily habits with good hydration, proper nutrition, proper rest,” said Andrews. “The next thing is they have to have a pre-participation examination by a sports medicine specialist; a primary care, orthopedic surgeon or a medical doctor of some sort.”

Many kids have been able to work out in their backyards and with exercise videos.  But Andrews says you have to assume, when they’re finally approved for team activities, that they have to start conditioning from scratch.

“A general ramp-up period to get them ready for being coached is about 3 weeks” Andrews said. “They need gradual, progressive weight training and biometric activities to get them in shape. Also at this point in time, they need to maintain 6 ft. apart [and] try to make sure that we don’t have a bunch of kids coming down with COVID-19.”

And that, he says, comes down to the coaches.

“Perhaps the most dangerous thing of all is ignorance; coaches who have no background or training in injury prevention and care,” intones the video. “Even the best parents – no matter how well they know their children – who aren’t educated to recognize the symptoms. And any adults who push kids too hard for too long – risking long-term damage of all kinds.”

With football season approaching, the idea of social distancing is a major concern for the 22 players on the field at any one time.

“That won’t work there,” said Andrews. “[But] by the time football season comes I’m hoping that we will be through all of these precautions. The big one that we’ve got to worry about initially is youth baseball [and] youth lacrosse”

Rules are in place next door in Alabama, says Andrews, which mandate social distancing at youth baseball games.

“One parent only; the parents will not be able to sit in the stands,” said Andrews. “They’re going to have to sit down the fence line and basically going to be playing to no crowds. How do you even keep the kids in the dugout separated from each other? They tell me that in some cases they’re going to have the kids sit in the stands, separated from each other.”

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Andrews Institute, Gulf Breeze

Andrews Institute and Baptist Health Care provide certified athletic trainers to all 23 public high schools in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties, working with the coaching staffs.

“Athletic trainers; strength and conditioning coaches, gradually work up [the players] and then turn them over to the coaches for the summer workout,” Andrews said. “We’ve got make sure we’ve got supervision for working out in the heat; and then when football practice actually begins, hopefully we’ll control the length of the practices.”

Last week, Florida shattered its previous record for the number of coronavirus cases recorded in one day – more than 3,200 -- according to the Florida Department of Health. For now, whether the games will be played during the 2020-21 school year remains up in the air.