Sports Physicals for Teens Matter. Here’s Why.

**By Michael Dudas, MD, FAAP**

Soccerball in netPlaying on a community or school sports team is a great way for kids to stay in shape, learn teamwork, commit to a healthy pursuit and have fun. This is probably why more than 38 million American children and teens play at least one organized sport.

No matter which sport your child plays, there is always a risk of getting hurt. Teen sports injuries range from minor sprained ankles and repetitive strains to heat stroke. Some kids experience medical conditions such as exercise-induced asthma or allergic reactions to bees and other stinging insects found around athletic fields.

To avoid getting hurt or sick while competing, teens need to be ready. Preparation begins with seeing a health care provider for a sports physical to ensure their bodies are ready for the season and that there is not a family or individual medical history that requires further attention.

Even if your child’s school district or recreational league does not require a sports physical, it is a good idea for every teen who plays a sport to make sure they are healthy enough to safely participate.

What is a sports physical?

A sports physical is a checkup to assess a teen’s health and fitness as it relates to a sport. It is not the same as a regular physical, but sometimes can be done together during the same visit. During a sports physical, the health care provider looks for any diseases or injuries that could make it unsafe to participate in sports and reviews the family’s medical history to ensure additional tests are performed, if necessary.

Where and when is a sports physical done?

Pediatricians, primary care doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners can perform sports physicals and sign the required forms. While sports physicals are offered at other clinics, such as those inside some drug-store chains, they should not take the place of an annual physical exam by your teen’s pediatrician, where other important health issues are also addressed.

Ideally, you should try to have the exam done about six to eight weeks before sports season starts. That way, if the health care provider wants to treat a condition, refer you to a specialist, or do a followup exam, there will be enough time before the sport begins to be cleared to play.

What to expect during a sports physical

Your teen’s sports physical should start with a thorough medical history. The health care provider will ask about any history of illness, hospitalizations or injuries that might prevent them from playing or limit the amount of activity they can handle. Your teen should be asked to complete a health history form, as well as a questionnaire that asks about daily habits and lifestyle choices.

The medical history will be followed by a physical exam, where the health care provider will:

  • Measure height and weight
  • Take pulse rate and blood pressure
  • Check heart and lungs
  • Check neurological function
  • Test vision and hearing
  • Check ears, nose and throat
  • Look at joint flexibility, mobility, spinal alignment and posture
  • Screen for hernias in males

Girls may also be asked about their period, and whether it is regular. Additional tests such as bloodwork, an X-ray or electrocardiogram may be ordered based on the analysis.

Will my teen be able to play?

At the end of a sports physical, the health care provider will decide whether it is safe for your teen to play. The decision is based on several factors, including:

  • Type of sport and how strenuous it is
  • Position played
  • Level of competition
  • Size of the athlete
  • Use and type of protective equipment
  • Ability to modify the sport to make it safer

If everything checks out, the health care provider will provide an OK to play without restrictions. Or, the health care provider may recommend modifications, like using special protective equipment, carrying an epinephrine injector (“EpiPen”) for severe insect allergies, or using an inhaler if your teen has asthma.

It is rare for teens not to be allowed to play. Most health conditions will not prevent kids from participating in sports, but sometimes they will need treatment and a follow-up exam first.

Even if your teen has a sports physical every season, it is not a complete physical exam. They should still receive a comprehensive health exam each year.

Schedule sports physicals early

Since individual school districts have different timing requirements about when student athletes need to show proof of a recent sports physical to try out and play, I encourage parents to schedule them as early as possible since demand often exceeds availability. Some school districts require that student athletes trying out for fall sports show proof of a sports physical as early as Aug. 1 since that is when tryouts and practices sometimes begin.

Walk-In Sports Physical Mini Camp at Virginia Mason Issaquah Aug. 11

Virginia Mason Issaquah (100 N.E. Gilman Blvd., Issaquah, WA 98027) is offering a Walk-In Sports Physical Mini Camp Saturday, Aug. 11, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. This convenient, drop-in opportunity will allow athletes between ages 5-21 to receive the required preparticipation exam and important information about concussions and sports nutrition. Healthy snacks will also be available, and student athletes can participate in Nutrition and Fitness for Life (N.F.L.) challenges. For more information, or to schedule an appointment on another date, call 425-557-8000 or visit

Dr Michael Dudas_2017Michael Dudas, MD, FAAP is a board certified pediatrician who practices at Virginia Mason University Village Medical Center. His specialties include Pediatrics and Primary Care. He has been chief of Pediatrics at Virginia Mason since 2007.
A version of this article previously appeared in 425 Magazine

Child not into team sports? Check out these six kid-friendly alternatives for fun and exercise

**By Alison Koop**

Kids YogaNot every kid is interested in team sports. But what do you do when telling your son or daughter to “go outside and get some exercise” doesn’t work? If you’re looking for something more inventive to coax your child away from screens, consider these activities.

Some may be new to you (orienteering, parkour). Others are newly popular (yoga, ballroom dance).  Each activity is appropriate for children in elementary school through high school.

Parkour: the navigation sport

Would your children love to vault railings, climb short walls, swing through confined spaces, and balance on small objects, one right after the other? They’re too young to compete on American Ninja Warrior, but they can try parkour.  Parkour is the art of overcoming obstacles as swiftly and efficiently as possible.

Parkour is great fun and a physical workout. It also develops agility, spatial awareness, balance, and the ability to focus and think in the moment. Courses are specially designed for the sport and often set indoors. Parkour instructors emphasize safety and injury prevention. They teach the correct way to crawl, fall, roll, run, land, jump, climb, and swing.

Seattle nonprofit organization Parkour Visions offers classes for kids in several age groups, age 3 and up.  The first class is free.

Mountain biking

We can thank the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance for two new parks devoted to the sport. These parks offer varied courses full of twists, turns, bumps and jumps, separated into novice, intermediate and advanced areas. (Helmets strongly encouraged; full-face helmets advised for tricky areas.) Kids and adults both will enjoy the four-acre I-5 Colonnade Mountain Bike Skills Park in Seattle, and 6-acre Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park on the Issaquah Plateau. Skills and safety classes for kids ages 8 to 13 are occasionally held at Colonnade and other locations. Keep Evergreen’s week-long mountain bike Youth Dirt Camps (ages 9 to 13) in mind for next summer, for kids ready to use their intermediate level skills.

 Orienteering: the navigation sport

Orienteering involves racing against a clock and navigating an outdoor course with a special map.  The goal is to find the pre-set checkpoints in order, but it’s up to each participant to determine the best route. Straight up the hill and through the trees? Or take the flatter but longer trail around the obstacle? This exercises your child’s mind and body while building self-confidence.

The nonprofit Cascade Orienteering Club holds meets year-round throughout greater Puget Sound. Its affiliated School League is open to students from elementary through high school and offers a free introductory class. Your child doesn’t need previous experience and belonging to a team isn’t required. Courses are separated by age, skill level and gender to provide the right degree of challenge.

To give your child a feel for the sport, try one of the permanent orienteering courses located in Puget Sound parks. These beginner-level courses can be done anytime by groups or families.

Ballroom dancing

It’s not just waltz, cha cha and swing anymore.  Zumba and hip hop are among the dance forms with more “attitude” taught today. Several venues in the region offer classes for children as young as age 5, and some start kids dancing individually in a group instead of partnering as boy and girl. You might want to take a group or individual lesson yourself while your child is in class!

Dancing is good exercise and improves balance and coordination. Your child will develop body awareness and a sense of rhythm, too. And don’t forget that instructors stress politeness and respect for others. That’s another lesson your child can take with him or her on and off the dance floor. Just enter “ballroom dancing for children” in your Web browser to look at programs in your area.

Gym climbing and outdoor climbing walls

Kids are natural climbers because they have a high strength to weight ratio. And because climbing uses legs and abdominal muscles as well as the upper body, children get a full workout. But climbing is more than a physical challenge. It takes imagination to work through which holds to grab and where to place a foot.

Climbing develops balance and body awareness, too, as well as the ability to focus and persevere on the way to the top. Perhaps the best thing about climbing? Because it’s equal parts creative thinking and physical stamina, less athletic kids often shine.

Indoor rock climbing gyms typically offer kids’ classes and equipment. The Seattle REI Climbing Pinnacle is a 65-foot indoor structure providing several climbing options and year-round classes for kids. Several area parks have small climbing walls on their grounds including Saint Edward State Park.


Yoga increases flexibility, strength, balance and coordination. Studies also show that yoga helps children relax and focus, and may help boost school performance. This is not surprising: yoga is noncompetitive and meant to be a nurturing experience.

Some classes for younger kids mix games and songs with age and developmentally appropriate yoga poses. For a roundup of Puget Sound venues and classes for children, see Red Tricycle magazine’s recent article.

Before signing up your child or teen, check whether the instructor is registered with the Yoga Alliance. This certification requires at least 200 hours of training in yoga techniques and teaching.

Parents: Can you add to this list? Are there other activities for fun and exercise your children enjoy? Whatever appeals to your child, the key is making exercise a regular activity they’ll look forward to.