When kids are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, many parents wonder if their child will ever get to participate in sports again. The answer is YES! Exercise is an important part of diabetes management. Your child’s coach will have an enormous impact on the whole experience, so it’s important to connect with him or her right away.

Training the Trainer

“The first thing you need to do is help the coach understand that there’s no sport a kid with diabetes can’t do,” says Moira McCarthy, whose daughter has type 1 diabetes. You could mention the names of a few pro athletes with type 1 diabetes, including Olympic swimmer Gary Hall, Jr., who has won a total of 10 medals, and Olympic cross country skier, Kris Freeman. For school sports, you’ll want to make sure participation is covered in your 504 Plan. For community teams, McCarthy suggests inviting the coach out for coffee to get him or her up to speed on the condition. Discuss what the coach may need to do during practice or game time (such as encourage your child to have a snack or check blood glucose), and what to do in the event of an emergency. Talk about how the coach can identify and deal with low blood sugar, and provide written instructions he or she can refer to later.

Stocking the Bench

Make sure you provide your child and the coach any snacks or treatment for low blood sugar that might be needed, such as juice, fruit, cheese and crackers, and glucose tablets. Water is, of course, also important to have on hand to prevent dehydration. Tell the coach your child will always bring a backpack of medical supplies to games, such as testing supplies, medications, and his/her diabetes management plan. The coach should know where these supplies are at all times. Confirm whether or not your child will be allowed to wear a medical identification bracelet during game time. If not, a nylon wristband that says “Type 1 Diabetes” is a good alternative.

Supporting Your MVP

Attending your child’s games can provide peace of mind for you, the coach, and even your child. However, if you can’t be at a certain game, give the coach your emergency contact info and the message that he or she can reach you at all times. Kids might be embarrassed to tell teammates they have diabetes, but if possible, it helps if other players know about the symptoms of low blood sugar. That way, they’ll understand if the child needs to miss a practice or test at a game, and can respond quickly if he or she asks for help. If you feel the coach is not taking your child’s diabetes seriously, take action. “Go with your parental gut,” she advises. “If you have a coach who you feel thinks you’re overprotective, volunteer to be an assistant coach, find someone (like another team-member parent) who can be there for your child when you can’t, or choose another team. You really don’t want your kid to be with a coach who isn’t willing to understand his or her needs.”

Team sports can be an incredibly positive experience for kids with type 1, as long as parents and coaches work together to keep children safe and healthy on and off the field.

Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.

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