At Next Level Fitness & Performance, we train over 600 athletes each year; starting as young as age 7 all the way up to professionals and even some master’s level endurance racers. Designing effective training programs for so many types of athletes is challenging, but regardless of who the athlete is, or what level they are at, we always start with one very important goal: injury prevention. The reality is that an athlete on the sideline becomes a confined spectator wrestling with their own strong personal investment in their team and career.
Having been through multiple injuries myself, including 2 back surgeries before the age of 22, I now know that my injuries could have been avoided. I realize that much of the morning pain and limited mobility that I endure today could be non-existent had I been through proper training as a young athlete. What a revelation!!! My personal experience is what drives me to think of all athletes this way: how will they feel in their forties and fifties? I cringe at the site of an athlete standing on the sidelines on crutches due to a preventable injury, watching his/her team playing in games. Just as success in athletics builds confidence in people, injuries have been known to destroy confidence in even the most accomplished athletes. Tiger Woods and RGIII are prime examples.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost 30 million children and adolescents participate in youth sports in the U.S. and the facts they share on is astounding:
Ø High school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries and 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year.
Ø More than 3.5 million kids under age 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year.
Ø Children ages 5 to 14 account for nearly 40 percent of all sports-related injuries treated in hospitals. On average the rate and severity of injury increases with a child’s age.
Ø Overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school students
Ø Although 62 percent of organized sports-related injuries occur during practice, one-third of parents do not have their children take the same safety precautions at practice that they would during a game.
Ø Twenty percent of children ages 8 to 12 and 45 percent of those ages 13 to 14 will have arm pain during a single youth baseball season.
Ø Injuries associated with participation in sports and recreational activities account for 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among children in the United States.
Ø According to the CDC, more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable.
Ø By age 13, 70 percent of kids drop out of youth sports. The top three reasons: adults, coaches and parents.
Ø Among athletes ages 5 to 14, 28 percent of percent of football players, 25 percent of baseball players, 22 percent of soccer players, 15 percent of basketball players, and 12 percent of softball players were injured while playing their respective sports
Ø Since 2000 there has been a fivefold increase in the number of serious shoulder and elbow injuries among youth baseball and softball players.
Crazy statistics….right? I am a product of athletics: baseball until I realized that I couldn’t hit the curve ball, wrestling in high school, football in high school and college. I’m a true believer in the virtues that athletics instills in us. Sports help to build confidence and teach us life lessons; like learning to thrive in a team environment and overcoming adversity through losing a game or getting cut from a team.
But, we as coaches and parents have a ways to go in helping to build strong athletic bodies that are less prone to injury. So, with the start of spring sports right around the corner, the timing couldn’t be better to share Next Level’s six critical components of injury prevention strategy that will help keep your players on the field and out of the doctor’s office.
The most important thing for coaches to remember is that “if it’s a part of practice, then coach it!” don’t expect your players to do it on their own.
· Soft Tissue Work: (2-3 minutes) Muscles that perform well and stay injury free are soft and warm like a garden hose left out in the sun. Utilizing a lacrosse ball, massage stick or foam roller pre-practice prepares muscle tissue for the demands that will be put on them during a practice or game.
· Mobility & Corrective Exercises: (2 minutes) Immobile joints limit movement and create stress that cause injury. Exercises like hydrants, sumo squat to stand, and bear crawls for hip mobility and shoulder stability are excellent ways of waking the body up and getting it ready for dynamic movement.
· Dynamic warm-up: (5 minutes) Exercises like high kicks, walking toe reaches, carioca, and walking lunges are staples in most dynamic warm-ups. The concept of moving through stretches instead of lying on the ground and holding them (static stretching) has been around for a while now, but most coaches just tell players what to do and don’t coach it. There is a right way and a wrong way to do it. One of my mentors once told me: “You can’t expect what you don’t inspect!”
· Core Strength: (5 minutes) Most athletes think core strength is having a “six pack.” Although abdominal muscles are important for anterior stability, exercises like plank, side plank, glute bridges and anti-rotational exercises actually give the body the foundation that it needs to avoid most injuries. If the core is weak, it adds extra stress to shoulders, knees and ankles. This piece is huge; If you don’t believe me ask your athlete to shuffle 5 yards and stop as quickly as possible. Look to see how much extra movement happens.
· Upper Body Strength & Lower Body Strength: (2-3 minutes) Body weight squats done with hips back, chest up holding a soccer ball or, baseball bat or lacrosse stick at arm’s length makes for an excellent lower body strength workout before or after practice. Push-ups or animal crawls help to build upper body strength so that when athletes fall or have to push against a competitor, shoulders, elbows, and wrists remain healthy.
· Post workout static stretching: (5 minutes) Often neglected, we have found that using stretching rope or partner stretching has been successful in motivating athletes to take care of their bodies with static stretching. It also gives athletes a little down time to bond together and enjoy their teammates and coaches without the intensity of explosive movement.
All of these strategies should take a total of 20-25 minutes of your practice time (a small price to pay for a healthy team). It’s also a good time to get your athletes engaged with coaches and learning to take instruction. It’s always a good idea to talk to athletes about accepting coaching and making themselves better players; most of the time the idea of becoming the best player or moving on to the next level in their sport is what motivates them.
At Next Level, we believe so strongly in preparation that we have teamed up with two highly regarded doctors in the area to present our 1st Annual Winter Clinic entitled “Coaching Essentials for Athletic Performance and Injury Prevention.” Dr. Scott Ross, a Novant family physician and Sports Medicine Specialist, will present Assessing In Game Injuries: Minor, Serious, or Life-Threatening? Dr. Josh Cole, sports chiropractor at Haymarket Physical Therapy and Chiropractic, will present Keeping Players on the Field: A Guide to Injury Prevention and Overuse Injuries. I’m looking forward to presenting Enhancing Athletic Performance: the Coaches Guide to Building a Better Athlete. Any coach, parent or mentor hoping to enhance their skills when it comes to preventing and identifying injuries, return to play scenarios, or developing quicker athletes should contact us online at https://nltraining.com/clinics/