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Part 3:   Recap, My experiences, and 13 Suggestions for Athletes, parents, and Coaches

Ernie Falconer

In the previous 2 parts of my Youth Athletes and Over-use Injury series I have discussed not pushing children too hard or too fast, that most athlete’s don’t move on to play at the highest levels of college and professionals. That specialization in one sport too young is a bad idea. It leads to athletes being burned out and it leads to a lot of injuries. I’ve defined what true athletes are and that it is necessary to develop athleticism prior to sport specialization. It is important to be well rounded at a young age. It is important to not only play sports, but also take care of the body with nutrition, training, physical and mental health, family, and a healthy youth social life. Reminding everyone that we are raising future adults, where the ultimate goals should be of happiness and healthiness. In the 3rd and final part, I will now discuss more on over-use injuries, my personal experiences with sports and working with youth athletes, and my suggestions for everyone involved in the lives of youth athletes.

Find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Read this article from activeforlife.com about Quebec Hockey program that has a “Building an Athlete” program in place already. Read Here 

“The research found that young athletes who are highly specialized in a single sport were 1.5 times more likely to develop injuries of any type compared with diversified athletes, even when the results were controlled for age and the number of hours spent playing. Serious overuse injuries were 2.3 times more common in highly specialized athletes than in others.”   This Wall Street Journal Article, that happened to come out the same day I posted Part 1 of my article, addresses the same topic.

Guidelines for Young Athletes to Reduce Injuries” by Sumathi Reddy

Over-use Injuries:

I believe that almost all pain and injuries, other than contact injuries, are in some way over-use injuries. Take an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament in the knee) tear, for example. From my experience, most people think an ACL tear occurs on one play, with one small movement, and only that one time. Sure there are always multiple factors to this injury, however, I argue that the non-contact ACL tear is essentially an over-use injury.

The ACL is weakened from landing hundreds to thousands of times moving poorly: Moving with poor body control; core, hip, and foot/ankle muscles aren’t working efficiently during full body sport movements; the is foot over-pronating, femur internally rotating and adducting, and the knee falling into dynamic valgus (even if only slightly). The body gets conditioned to moving this way, relying too much on certain muscles more than others, and relying too much on “passive” structures. Those patterns get learned and the movement system gets lazy, causing the structures to break down, give way, and the ACL is torn.

RGIII Knee Valgus

The picture above has been floating around for a while. It is of RG III during the NFL combine, loading for his vertical jump in a valgus position. This was after his first ACL tear in college, and prior to his tearing his LCL and ACL again in January 2013. For those of you who don’t know, the way his knees are moving in towards each other, is the mechanism of injury for an ACL tear. This picture is, in a sense, foreshadowing. The videos below are are two basketball players tearing their ACLs, with no contact. Watch as their knees move in the same motion as RG III’s.

My Experiences:

High School Football Kicking

High School Football Kicking

I’ve been there. For about 5 years, from 4th-8th grade, I played on a highly competitive travel soccer team. Playing 3 seasons out of the year. But during that time, I also played baseball, basketball, and even two years of wrestling. However, once I got to high school, I was burned out with soccer. All of my good friends played football, so I switched to football through high school. I also sustained several injuries throughout those 4 years, having to miss time so I understand that aspect. I even had try-outs to kick at Penn State and opportunities to play at the Division-3 level, but chose not to because going to the college of my choice was more important to me.

High School Lacrosse 2003

High School Lacrosse 2003

I also played lacrosse in high school, though I messed around with lacrosse for years I didn’t really start playing competitively until I was a junior in high school (South Jersey didn’t have men’s lacrosse then). I only got 1 year of high school play, since it started my senior year. I actually missed all of tryouts, scrimmages, practices, and all but 1 play of the first game of my only possible high school season of lacrosse due to a fracture in my forearm. I know the feeling of having to miss out. Anyway, lacrosse came extremely naturally to me because of the skills I learned from all of the other sports I had played growing up. I received several accolades and could have played in a smaller college, possibly walked on to D-1 (circumstances prevented me from trying out). But the point is, I was successful in every sport I played, which I contribute to athleticism. I was able to switch to completely different sports, football and lacrosse in high school and play, because of athleticism not because I knew the sport. I also continued to play rec league basketball, baseball, and even a little soccer throughout high school.

I knew nothing then of what I know now. My parents didn’t know either, but I think they did a lot right. Always listened to my body and medical professionals. Always teaching me to be a well-rounded athlete and person, encouraging me play multiples sports. Though I didn’t go on to a higher level of sports play, I learned so much and my experiences led me to do what I am doing today.

As a physical therapist working with youth athletes for the past 4 years or so, I treated these over-use injuries on a daily basis. I’ve heard everything from the parents, dealt with the ones who truly care about the health of their child and those that stopped taking their child to physical therapy because they couldn’t fit it in the schedule. I’ve seen 10 year olds with over-use injuries and 16 year olds contemplating never playing a sport again because of all the injuries they have had. I’ve worked with the athletes who, along with their parents, listen to every instruction given. I’ve worked with those who do not listen to a word I have said. I’ve worked with young athletes that have to tell their parents that they are wrong and they really can’t play right now, and parents who make their children sit out until they are ready. I’ve worked with young athletes that hang on every word and do everything perfectly, and those who just go through the motions.

I work with people, not only athletes. I talk to people every day that have ignored injuries and pain, and are worse now because of it. I have seen the athlete who was still a toe walker at 16 years old and was having pain in her ankles, knees, hips, and back, because it was never addressed. The repeat client who did not stay in training or therapy long enough and did not continue with their movements and exercises, so his pain or injury returned.

_MG_3524

I get it. No one wants to be in physical therapy.  Being in physical therapy means you are in pain, you are injured. No one wants to be in pain. It means that they are unable to do some of the activities they love to do most. Most youth athletes, that like playing sports, would rather be training, at practice with their teammates, or playing for that sport.  Athletes want to be a part of the team.

These are all examples of why to start doing things the right way early on in a youth athlete’s life. I just want to make a quick note. We hear a lot about sport specialization and how it is bad at a young age, but doing too much can be a bad thing too. We, as humans, cannot be spread too thin; this will also lead to issues. I cringe when I hear how much some of the grade school through high school kids are doing… For example a youth athletes fall schedule may look something like this: soccer, dance, brownies or girl scouts, the school play, fitness training/physical therapy, volunteering, all advanced classes. Not to mention family obligations and a social life. Being over-worked and tired also leads to getting burned out, fatigue, injuries, and less success. Why not pick 3-5 activities to be involved in during the entire year. Spread them out and really allow the growing child to absorb what he/she is doing, really learn. Then as they get older, start to determine the focus of their talents and interests (which may be none of those activities), but start to focus on that skill and interest while continuing a few of the others. It’s about trying to find a good balance.

All of these are reasons that led me to start Movement by Logan. My long-term goal is to build programs and an environment to be able to teach and educate athletes and non-athletes about their bodies. To be able to work with them for ongoing and very long periods of time to help them combat the unexpected movements this world of ours puts us through. To have them at their best possible level of mind, body, and soul and be ready to take-on and deal with unexpected issues that arise. Pain and injury is inevitable, but the better educated and experienced you are, mentally and physically, the quicker and easier you will be able to bounce back from a setback.

Everything discussed in these 3 articles will help to avoid pain and injuries due to over-use. However, since pain and injuries are inevitable with sports, it is extremely important not to ignore and work through the pain and injuries. Try to find the balance between pushing too hard and not enough. Happiness and development of a well-rounded, good person should be the ultimate goal. Below are my 16 suggestions to help reduce the risk of over-use injuries and repetitive injuries in youth sports.

My 13 suggestions for youth athletes, parents/guardians, families, and coaches:

1.  All athletes should not be focusing on one sport until junior year in high school at the earliest, ideally college.

– No young athlete should be playing one sport all year around. If they only want to play one sport then limit it to 2 full seasons, or 3 seasons with one being a short season, a year. Make sure they have time off from the sport.

2.  Be well rounded and balanced, don’t over-work.

– Try not to spread the youth athlete too thin. Do not have youth athletes doing too much at once. School, sports, family, and a social life already take up a good amount of time.

3.  Partake in proper in-season and off-season training.

– Playing sports breaks down the body. During the season they need to be performing exercises that will undo what the repetition of sports does and help prevent the break-down. Athletes should have a good go-to physical therapist that can address any issues the moment they arise.

– Athletes should have very good off season training – strengthening, mobility, neuromuscular training education about their body

4.  It is very important to find:

-Good Coaches

-Good Strength and Conditioning Coaches

-A Physical Therapist

-A Nutritionist

-Medical Doctors – of all necessary specialties, which is individualized

**Not all professionals are created equally. Not everyone with a degree is on the same level. Do your homework, observe, and make changes when necessary

**Allow the professionals to do what they do best. Allow them to educate the parents, coaches, athletes, etc. on what is best for the development of the athlete

5.  Actually listen to these professionals.

– Follow the rules and guidelines

– Listen to the instructions and take the advice and suggestions to better help make an informed decision

6.  Accountability and Consistency.

– Time must be put in. Everyone must have accountability and consistency, including parents, athletes, coaches, physical therapists, and so on.

7.  Parents, coaches, and the athletes must “buy into” the training and treatment. Otherwise, it will not work.

8.  Put in the work and effort. Learn.

– Do not just go through the motions. Learn and understand the training. Know how you are supposed to do something and why you are doing it that way, and what the purpose of that particular movement is. The more you understand, the more you will be able to replicate the proper movements to reinforce these patterns throughout the day and on the field.

– The more you are educated about your body, how it works, and how to perform movements properly, the quicker and better you will recover from pain and injuries.

9.  Do not ignore pain or injuries.

– They will get worse, if not now, in the future.

– Also do not ignore being sick. When we are sick our bodies are working to get rid of the sickness, this means less attention is paid to the rest of what the body is doing. Puts us at a higher risk of injury.

10.  Do not rush back into playing following injury or surgery.

– Rushing back will actually prolong your problems as well as reducing your effectiveness in the sport.

– Parents and coaches: Following injury, do not rush your children/athletes back into playing if it is not the best thing for their future – not only the near future, or college future, but also for when they are an adult and probably working in a field that is not sports related.

11.  Know the true potential. Don’t be blinded by your desires and dreams.

– Those with little-to-no athletic potential cannot be pushed, as that leads to injury.I am not saying they should not play sports, because if they want to then they should. Sports are great for many reasons. But this is what recreational and town league sports are perfect for.

12.  Make good decisions in every aspect of the athlete’s life to help avoid over-use injuries.

13.  Listen. Observe. Learn. Adapt. Make it the best out of all opportunities. Be happy.

– Shaun

Every movement matters.