So you’re looking to be a stud on the field, or maybe on the court, right? About 65 miles north of Los Angeles, in a desert area filled with Joshua trees and tumbleweeds called the Antelope Valley, there is a countless number of athletes working on their skills to compete at higher levels and reach their ultimate goal of going to college and then on a professional level. My question is however, how exactly do you get to become the best athlete you can possibly be? Should you rely on raw, natural talent? Let me ask you this? What is your training plan, do you have any direction, or are you winging it hoping that you land on the right path?athletic development coach, my job has been to assist young athletes in training and developing their athletic skills to reach their full potential while minimizing injuries. Now isn’t that the goal of every athlete, coach, and parent? They want to be in the game, playing, winning, having fun, and growing into an athletic beast like Lebron James, or Adrian Peterson.
The problem is though; a lot of athletes within the A.V. are missing a key ingredient to a successful athletic career: appropriate aged based performance-enhancing programs that would help them increase their athletic strength and power, and would allow them to improve their game speed, agility, and flexibility. What’s most important to these young athletes is to implement a program that addresses their individual injury concerns.
In working with young athletes around the Antelope Valley, I have discovered that majority of the athletes playing sports today are just a hair line away from a season ending injury. According to a three year study conducted by the National Athletic Trainer’s Association from 1995-1997, two players on any team in America, no matter the gender will be injured during the season. It showed us that the most common injuries were sprains (44.6% males, 44.2% females). Moreover, the most likely place athletes were getting injured was in the foot/ankle complex (38.0% males, 36.0% females)
In information I gathered from the National Center for Sports Safety, there were over 680,000 injuries in basketball in 2001. This was over 200,000 more than the injuries that occurred in tackle football! Excessive injuries in sports are due to lack of proper training, repetitive muscle strain, and inadequate flexibility and control of the body.
What makes things worse is the fact most athletes do not have access to Injury Prevention and Performance Enhancement Coaches that could help these young athletes prevent injuries through sound training principles and proper education. And most head coaches just don’t have the skill, training or the time to address every athlete’s developmental needs. Most of these teams strength & conditioning workouts come from other coaches they know or from the Internet and is not individually based, so there is really no way of knowing what each athlete’s injury concerns are.
The need for injury prevention programs is obvious: An athlete’s history of injuries will spur future injuries. This is especially true when the injury that has occurred is improperly managed. These reasons should lead us to focusing on “pre-habilitation,” (addressing a weaker muscle before we actually injure the muscle or muscle group) rather than rehabilitation. Some simple steps may help these athletes prolong their athletic careers throughout high school, college, and even at the pro level for the very exceptional athletes.
Here are five steps to enhancing your performance and prolonging your career in sports for long lasting success:
1. Individually based programs start with the assessment. This is better done by a professional, but with a good mirror and little education you can determine where your weaknesses are. There are plenty of assessments that can be done; one in particular that we use as sports medicine and fitness professionals is the Functional Movement Screen created by Sports Physical Therapist Gray Cook.
In using the FMS, we can see through simple, yet effective testing where an athlete may be prone to injury, thus allowing the performance coach the opportunity to develop a proper training protocol for that athlete.
2. Begin a corrective exercise program. Now that you have determined where your weaknesses are, you must start with the corrective process. A corrective exercise program addresses concerns of overactive muscles versus under-active muscles and attempts to strengthen the under-active muscles while relieving the excessive tension found in overused muscles. This validates the reason for having coaches who specialize in youth performance training and have vast knowledge in corrective exercise programming. No athlete likes sitting on the sideline, but with overuse injuries and improper training; this is surely what will happen! Plus, adding in the fact that most injuries are improperly managed, the athlete is almost guaranteed to re-injure the muscle or joint in the future.
A corrective exercise program is especially important after your season is over. Spend a good 4-6 weeks in the corrective exercise phase fixing your muscle imbalances and your body (plus your coach) will be thankful for it.
3. Always do a proper dynamic warm-up. No matter what! When you have tight muscles, they tend to pull the joints out of proper alignment. Couple that with enormous demands of sprinting up and down a court, cutting, jumping for rebounds and you have a recipe for disaster. I see so many people neglect to stretch properly and go through a joint by joint dynamic warm-up. This alone will go a long way into enhancing your game performance. A good dynamic warm-up should include exercises that will stretch and strengthen your muscles at the same time. It should also address hip and ankle mobility. This will help to prevent knee sprains, hamstring pulls, low back pain and shoulder injuries. It should also raise your core temperature and increase blood flow. Fact is, failing to take this step is a crucial mistake in athletic development.
4. Add some balance and stability training to your routine. In dynamic situations, an athlete is almost always on one foot. So improving an athlete’s balance is imperative for injury prevention and athletic development. Exercises like squats can be done on one leg to enhance athletic strength. Push-ups with one leg up will help develop hip, core, and shoulder stability.
5. Focus on deceleration. A Ferrari going 160 miles/hr without good working brakes is a catastrophe waiting to happen. The same is true for athletes who run fast, but don’t know how to properly slow down from a sprint or a cut properly. This is a common reason for ankle and knee sprains. An athlete who cannot sprint and cut with good form is asking for a sidelining injury. Before working on your speed and agility you need to work on “hitting the brakes” first. The same goes for jumping as well; do you “stick the landing,” or are you falling on your butt every time your feet hit the ground. It is a must that you learn proper jumping and landing technique.