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What to Know Before Your Kid's Sports Physical

A doctor and former student athlete on what to expect and how to plan

Published on: August 10, 2018

Young female athlete with doctor

As a student at Tahoma High School, I played three sports: volleyball, basketball and golf.  I remember how it felt to be training for the next season; I couldn’t wait to play. The sports physical was a box to check, an annoying paper hurdle to clear before getting on to the real business of competition. 

So I get why families view this process as a hassle. As a former student athlete, a parent and a family medicine doctor, I understand why parents are sometimes nervous that what they or their child says might mean I will not sign off on their physical.  

While doctors only rarely withhold a signature from the required form, that doesn't mean the appointments or forms aren't important. In some cases, they're even critical to your young athlete’s health. Here are some ways parents can maximize the value of the sports physical.

Do the paperwork ahead of time

Fill out the forms before your appointment rather than while rushed in the waiting room. It usually means a more complete picture of your child’s and family’s health. In general, it’s best not to leave this appointment until the last minute, whether scheduled with your primary care provider or at a walk-in clinic.  

For instance, if your child has asthma or exercise-induced asthma, the doctor will want to make sure your child has the medication and inhaler they need for exercising safely. That means you’ll likely be referred to an additional specialist appointment; you want to leave time for that.  

Be honest about your family history

This is particularly important when it relates to heart problems. Also, take a mental inventory of symptoms that your child may have experienced in the year since their last exam. Did they get dizzy or seem unusually winded during spring soccer? 

If family history or symptoms are concerning, the provider may order an EKG refer for an echocardiogram, or if your child has sprained the same ankle six times, the provider may suggest the use of a brace for prevention or refer them to a physician who specializes in orthopedics. My goal as a family medicine doctor is to make sure that competing is safe for your child.

Be thorough

On the form where it asks about medications, please provide a complete review of all pills, supplements and additives that your child takes. That includes things like St. John’s wort or protein powder. Medical providers always do a medication check because certain substances — even non-prescription ones — sometimes do not interact well together.

Be prepared for questions

During the physical, your child will be weighed and we may talk about diet. Biologically female athletes may be asked about their period and menstruation. If your athlete has started or gone through puberty, expect questions about that. This is not an appointment that typically involves a physical exam of genitalia, unless there’s reason for concern.  

When playing basketball in high school, I tore my right ACL. I was forced to miss all sports until the end of my junior year. I came back and played at the state golf tournament, but the wait and recovery were painful. 

As an athlete, it’s worth it to be playing at maximum health, and the sports physical is one more tool to make sure your child can give it their all. 

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