Too often an athlete’s season is ended or hindered by injury that could have been prevented. It is not only the responsibility of the coac to pevent injury, but the athlete’s (and parents') as well. There are certain steps that can aid an athlete in lowering their chance of injury.
Warm-up & Stretch
The body must be prepared before it can perform. Cold muscles will turn into hurt muscles. Always begin each activity with a proper, 15-30 minute warm-up that incorporates stretching and dynamic movements. Without a warm-up the body is at high risk for injury, and the performance level of the athlete will decrease. Always end with a cool down and a stretch to decrease muscle soreness. Remember, muscle soreness is not an injury and can be reduced with a proper warm-up, cool down, and stretch.
Conditioning & Functional Training
It is essential that the athlete maintain a consistently high level of fitness during the pre-season, the competitive season, and the off-season. A consistently high fitness level not only helps prevents injury, but increases the performance standard of the athlete year round. As a general rule, you should always increase conditioning training gradually to avoid injury. Establishing a balance between your strength, flexibility, biomechanics, and training is the key to success in any sporting activity as well as the path to injury prevention. Biomechanics refers to how the motion of our bones come together to create a movement pattern. Our bodies are designed to move dynamically in many different planes, however these movement patterns need to be developed at a young age to ensure proper functional development. This will lead to proper stability and muscle patterns to help prevent injuries.
Strength & Flexibility
The strength of our muscles, coupled with adequate flexibility, allows us to produce the motion or action we desire. If one area is weak, another part may try to do too much, causing an overuse syndrome. Likewise, if any muscles are too tight, the body will compensate and try to find another way to create the motion it wants, again leading to tissue break down. Following a training plan with gradual increases in intensity is very important. Pushing your body too hard, too far, or too fast may backfire, leading to injuries. Your muscles and cardiovascular system will increase their level of condition as you moderately increase the load.
Nutrition, Supplementation & Hydration
A well balanced diet is the best way to have the fuel necessary to compete at a high level. If the body is not receiving enough vitamins and nutrients from a balanced diet, then supplements can help. When the body does not receive enough of what it needs, a breakdown in the muscles can happen, which leads to muscle soreness and cramping. Do not overdo it with supplementation though. What the body does not need it will dispose of. Talk to your medical provider about proper supplementation, and always consult your physician before taking any over-the-counter or prescriptive drugs. Medications have a wide variety of side effects that dramatically affect the athlete, such as decreased coordination, increased body temperature, or increased dehydration. Be aware that medications are needed in certain situations, such as asthma. The importance of water replacement cannot be stressed enough in injury prevention. An athlete should always be well hydrated throughout the day. When the body lacks in water it cannot perform properly. This may lead to muscular problems, headaches, heat disorders, or dehydration. Water is the best source for the average athlete to keep the body hydrated, with a minimum requirement of half the body weight in ounces per day. Competition days require additional intake. Stay away from sports drinks unless you are an extereme competitor, such as a triathlete or marathon runner, who actually needs to replenish electrolytes.
The body will not heal unless it is given time to rest. Rest is a time for healing and systemic recovery. Your body will use this stage to restore glycogen while rebuilding and strengthening the body in response to the stresses of working out. A lack of rest and recovery can lead to over training and increase the risk for injury. Reminding ourlelves and educating our kids to manage recovery by going to bed on time will help them prepare for competition. Encourage them to go to sleep earlier or to take a “rest day” from training. Not enough sleep can lead to injuries because of weakness, less coordination, and less emotional motivation. Proper rest and sleep will help refill energy storage and prepare our bodies for the next activity!
Get Informed & Build your Wellness Team
Invest the time to get informed about proper injury prevention strategies and actively incorporate these into your routines to keep your athlete healthy. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is especially true with respect to youth athletic injuries. If an injury does occur, we recommend you seek medical advice right away. Data shows that acuity matters and the sooner you receive proper medical care, the sooner your athlete can return to sport. Having the right physician on your team will provide you peace of mind when confronted with the stressful situation of dealing with an injury. We recommend you develop your healthand wellness team before an injury occurs and having highly qualified professionals you know and trust on that team is paramount.