Prevent injury and optimise performance in childrenKids and teens are among the most injury-resistant people on the planet. Children who play regularly have high fitness levels, but even they need some evaluation and conditioning before taking up competitive sports. It might seem natural to let a child play his way into competition-level fitness, but unfocussed play rarely achieves this level of fitness. A child's untrained musculo-skeletal system cannot handle the stress, duration and magnitude of competitive sports training. Pre-season training is essential to prevent injury and optimise performance. Suppose your child wants to play sports competitively. The first step is to get him or her a routine health check up. Yes, even kids need one. Children can have clinically silent heart disease and other disorders. Correcting these disorders takes priority over sports. Assessing the physical fitness of a child is important. A chubby child might need a few weeks of aerobic training before taking up competitive sports. Most children need a couple of months of aerobic training, weight training and flexibility training to achieve fitness. Conditioning exercises on alternate days is acceptable. These should target all major muscle groups. Restricting exercises to sports-specific muscle groups is a bad idea: it can lead to injury and burn out. It can also limit the child's ability to succeed in any other form of physical activity.Conditioning exercises should develop strength, endurance, balance, coordination and flexibility. They should target all major joints and muscle groups. To prevent injury, these exercises should especially target the lower back and abdominal muscles. Parents should get involved with their child's pre-season training. It is not enough to pack the child off into the care of a coach. Parents can recognise injury long before a child is willing to acknowledge it. Competitive sports represent a major change in a child's life: parents can make the process easier by making daily life as well rounded as possible.Children who take up competitive sports should learn about exercise physiology, nutrition and injury prevention from day one. Sports and athletics in childhood demand attention to these matters because habits formed in childhood determine success and injury-free longevity in the arena.