BUZBY: When are they too sick to play?

With autumn in full swing and common colds emerging, when should a child play with, or return from, an illness?
At some point, most parents have to make the decision about whether or not a child is too sick to go to school. Sometimes the decision is easy, like when he has a fever or is sick to his stomach.  Other times it’s more difficult, like when he is congested or has a slight cough. But regardless of the reason he stays home, rarely is it a disappointment to the child thanks to television, iPads and other electronic devices.
It’s a little different when it comes to missing practice or a game. Many of us can remember arguing with our parents, “Let me play, I feel OK!”
Why should we think our children would be any different? My son is already using that argument: “But you told me you often played in high school when you were sick.” He is right, but when should your child be able to make that decision and when do you have to step in and make it for him?
One hockey season, my son had a fever of 102 degrees the day before a big hockey game against the best team in the league with a playoff spot potentially on the line. He went to the doctor and was told he shouldn’t play regardless of how he felt the next day. We were told he should be without a fever for 24 hours before exerting himself to the extent necessary to play ice hockey (and to avoid spreading his germs to teammates).
The next day, he was running around the house arguing that he felt fine and that his team needed him. His fever was gone, and he was eating like a horse.  Medication is amazing. And of course, I wanted him to play as much as he did.
My first instinct was to say, “You look fine, you feel fine and you want to play. Let’s get your gear on and go.”
Then I thought to myself that the doctor had said no, that there were a lot of germs going around, and that I’d never forgive myself if he became ill again after the game and missed even more school.
I had to remove my “former player” and “excited sports parent” hats, and put on my “responsible parent” hat (sometimes, I hate that hat). After all, this was just a game. If he became seriously ill, it could mean missing school and possibly many more games.
So I said, “No.”
He was disappointed. I was disappointed. His coaches and teammates were disappointed. But it was the right decision. How did I explain it? I told him the truth. “If you play this game and get sick again, you will probably miss the next game and maybe more. The doctor said, ‘Don’t play,’ and he knows best. When the doctor decides a pro player shouldn’t play, he doesn’t. Your doctor has decided that you shouldn’t play and I agree with him.”
In youth sports, children are often too young to make the decision about whether or not they should play when they are sick. Parents often have to make that unpopular decision. You, your child, the coach and the players will all want him to play. If the doctor says no, then your child should sit out.
After all, it’s just a game. (I’m wearing my responsible parent hat again.)

Contact Jon Buzby at JonBuzby@hotmail.com and follow him @YouthSportsBuzz on Twitter.

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