Posted: June 22, 2023
At Milwaukee Movement, you will not go one session without hearing the phrase “injury prevention”. This phrase is newer to the scene but has the power to positively impact the trajectory of an athlete’s career when understood and implemented. Being exposed to college and pro level athletes early on in my career, I saw many athletes sustain injuries that could have been prevented if they had the proper off field training to couple with what was being done during training and competition. That was not the case for all injuries, as some you can never be prepared for, but for many, it was a lack of athlete education. As I progressed towards the end of my college career and into life as a certified athletic trainer, I questioned why there weren’t more providers educating our youth athlete population on small changes that can be implemented early on in their career to help decrease the risk for injury. My thought was, “If I know how these injuries occur and what may make an athlete susceptible to sustaining one, I know what I would do to rehabilitate this injury, why would I not have the athlete perform the rehab before the injury occurs and train proper habits and movement patterns early on to help decrease the chances of them having to actually go through the rehab process?”
I am well aware that our youth athletes are going to continue to train at high intensities at early ages, for long hours, and compete more than is probably best for their bodies no matter what I say. So, I have made it my goal to come alongside athletes, parents, and coaches and provide training and resources to help each athlete establish proper movement patterns, learn how to properly warm-up and cool down, recover effectively in spite of various external influences, educate that training during growth spurts and growing pains might need to shift from what is typically normal for the athlete, and understand the difference between minor aches and pains and when those may be indicating more is going on inside. Injuries such as ACL tears, meniscus repairs, torn UCLs, fractures, and dislocations used to turn heads when mentioned among a team, however, with the rise in injury occurrences, these have become common household terms during locker room conversations that raise little concern as another teammate or fellow athlete becomes sidelined for months.
Injury prevention training and education allows athletes to continue to compete at high levels and offers additional resources to support the growth that they are making as an athlete while also helping to prolong the time they are able to compete in sport. Listed below are some essential factors to take into consideration when thinking about the long term health of your athlete:
Proper Warm-Up and Cool-Down Routines:
Many teams have a “warm up” that they perform collectively before training or a game that takes less than 5 minutes and is ineffective and non-specific to sport related movement patterns. This is not enough. If you are not the coach it can be hard to implement a proper warm-up, but as the athlete, you can take charge and be responsible to perform your own proper warm up that prepares the body for physical activity, increases blood flow, and improves flexibility, reducing the risk of injuries. After practice or competition, many athletes pack up their equipment and leave training without taking the time to cool down. Take charge before moving on to your next activity to cool-down which will result in proper body recovery, prevent muscle soreness, and increase flexibility.
Focus on Technique:
At Milwaukee Movement, we focus on establishing a movement foundation. We educate our athletes on proper form and patterns of movement starting from an early age to ensure they develop good habits that impact future training. Training faulty movement patterns can increase an athlete’s risk of overuse injury and can impact their ability to perform. The earlier the athlete learns to implement correct movement patterns and establish body control, the longer they have in their career to train and progress from their solid movement foundation.
No matter the age of the athlete, it is important to progress into activity instead of going from zero to one hundred. This principle helps the athlete’s body adapt and develop strength, endurance, and skill over time. This also helps to allow the body to recover effectively before progressing into the next phase of exercise. It is very important to be mindful of sudden changes in growth in the athlete as this can impact how they are progressing and performing in sport. Age-appropriate training programs that gradually increase in intensity and duration should be implemented based on the physical and emotional readiness of the athlete.
Rest and Recovery:
Rest and recovery are crucial for the youth athlete to decrease their risk for injury and promote overall health. Rest days where the athlete is not taking part in any training or competition should be incorporated minimum once a week. Time spent foam rolling, stretching, utilizing a massage gun, performing light mobility and low intensity cycling or swimming, are various forms of active recovery that can be beneficial in reducing soreness. Overtraining of the athlete can lead to fatigue, weakened immune systems, and increased injury risk. Monitoring sleep, nutrition, and hydration are also vital components of a young athlete's recovery process.
Cross-Training and Sport Variety:
Milwaukee Movement encourages our athletes to participate in a variety of sports and engage in cross-training activities to help reduce the risk of overtraining the same movement patterns. Focusing on a single sport too early can lead to chronic injury and burnout. Cross-training develops motor patterns, enhances kinesthetic awareness, prevents muscle imbalances, and reduces the risk of overuse injuries by using different muscle groups and movement patterns. If an athlete participates in a single sport, it is important that they receive training outside of scheduled practices to focus on developing movement patterns that are not worked during training to enhance their performance.
As competition levels rise, athletes become hesitant to report pain or discomfort to other teammates, parents, or coaches due to fear of losing playing time and visibility. It is important that athletes gain confidence in reporting injuries and concerns early, as this will be a valuable skill that they will need throughout their career to ensure they are getting the proper help to prevent further damage from occurring. Although challenging, parents and coaches must remember to keep the athlete and their health as the top priority. The individual is more important than their athletic performance, winning games, and receiving recognition. Coaches and parents should listen attentively and take appropriate action, whether it be helping the athlete to modify their training plan, seeking medical advice, or implementing additional recovery strategies.
The health and well-being of our youth athletes needs to become the number one priority for coaches, parents, and teammates. By educating the athlete and their support system on injury prevention techniques that can be put in place at an early age, we will begin to see decreased injury risk and enhanced athlete performance with longevity of careers improved.