Preventing Injuries Down the Road

As a strength and conditioning coach, I have the opportunity to work with elite student athletes. Many of these athletes are knocking on the doors of national teams as well as those who are new to their selected sports.
There seems to be an increase in the instances of injury among young athletes. Many of these injuries are due to overuse.
Many coaches and teachers I have spoken to are asking me the same questions I have in my heart: Why is there such an increase? What is the long-term impact these injuries will have on the athlete? How will teens be impacted in the future after they are subjected to Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) reconstruction surgeries, sprained ankles and other issues that cause slack in the supporting ligaments? What can we do about these issues?
According to an article in on sports specialization, the increase can be due to the following:
  1. When youths begin to specialize in a sport at a young age, they do not have a chance to develop overall athletic skills
  2. Often they push themselves too hard with only limited experience to know what to do or they do not have the maturity to back off when they need to.
  3. Poor management of the injury or little to no rehab of it

The long-term impact

  1. Puberty is an important phase when there is lots of modeling of the bones and soft tissue. All of these injuries can affect movement. It is not unlike me with my hamstring injury that I sustained when I was 15. I really felt the full impact of the injury when I was 30 years old when I developed poor running form. My hips drooped to compensate for the slightly shorter stride and the flexibility of my legs was also imbalanced.
  2. The rate of reinjury is anywhere from 7 to 10X. Youths need to be more careful because a minor injury can become more chronic if you injure it again.
  3. Psychologically, an athlete may not want to participate or be able to participate fully and need time away from the activity.
What can we do?
There are some steps we can take to change this trend:
  1. Engaging in an overall and progressive training program that suits different levels of athletes. You cannot use the same program for experienced athletes as with the novices of the same sport. This will help reduce the chance of over-reaching. Remember, they are not little adults. An experienced netball player who play a new sports like Ultimate Frisbee would have skills set that someone who is new to any organised sports. They are both novices to Ultimate Frisbee but they have different level of skills and fitness and the program should not be the same for both.
  2. Implementation of off-season fun activities that allow the development of general physical fitness rather than sports-specific fitness. Focus on agility and speed and balance development. Implement a cross training program into the regular training program.
  3. Allow student-athletes to enjoy the training and camaraderie. Winning should not be the focus, but rather growth. Let them love the sport.
  4. Educate, encourage and program recovery and rehab into the sports program and expectations of the coach.
Not everyone can be champion but everyone deserve to enjoy sports and play it with champion mindset . Injury and premature burnout will rob these young athletes many more great years with this or any other physical activities.
Invest now for the future.