Of all the youth sports seasons, winter is naturally when the majority of kids on a team get sick at one point or another. And not just because it's cold and flu season, but also a result of parents, players and coaches not always taking appropriate steps to prevent germs from spreading once they join the team.
Parents need to make smart decisions when sending their child to practices or games. I always use the rule of thumb that if you wouldn't send your child to school in his condition, he certainly does not need to go play a sport -- regardless of what he wants to do.
I also have the rule that if a child is sick enough to stay home from school, whatever the extra-curricular activity is on the schedule that night is not important enough to attend. It's not always a popular decision, but I believe it's the correct one.
But not every child will keep his or her germs benched at home. There will be times when players on your team just have bad colds, and while each parent certainly needs to make an individual decision, I don't think having a cold always warrants missing youth sports (or school).
As a result, there will be germs at youth sports events, and it's up to everyone involved to help fight them.
Kids should never share water bottles, which is the biggest germ-spreader of them all. I always make sure to have extra bottles of water in my trunk in case a player forgets his. It's still important to drink water, just not out of a teammate's bottle.
You hear all the time people spread germs the easiest by shaking hands or through any skin-to-skin contact, and yet in youth sports, the most popular way to congratulate a teammate is with a high five. Just picture the germs that are passed along every time a goal is scored. Try to encourage teammates to invent another way to celebrate, one that is still not taunting but also not a passageway for germs.
And lastly, sometimes the responsibility has to fall directly on the players' shoulders, especially as they get older and learn how to "fake" being sick or not. It's important to teach early in the season that it's a long one, and trying to play through an illness not only hurts the team at the time when a player can't give 100 percent, but it also could affect the team in the long term if that same player gets a more serious illness.
Hopefully by involving all three parties -- coaches, parents and players -- strategies can be implemented to prevent germs from spreading.
Jon Buzby's columns appear in newspapers and magazines around the country as well as numerous websites. Email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at twitter.com/jonbuzby