What are you doing to prevent injury?

“Out of 20 soccer-playing girls, the statistics predict that 1 each year will experience an ACL injury and go through reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation and the loss of a season, an eternity for a high schooler. Over the course of four years, 4 out of the 20 girls on that team will rupture an ACL.” This disturbing statistic is an excerpt from Michael Sokolove’s 2008 book, Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women’s Sports.

Such devastating injuries are not limited to the female gender, or the sport of soccer. According to a study released on July 12 at the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine meeting, 30 percent of baseball players who had “Tommy John” elbow reconstruction surgery in 2005 were high school-age pitchers. From 1991 to 1996, it was only 12 percent.

Some of these injuries could be explained by playing one sport exclusively year-round without any time off for strength training (see Sparta Point 1/14/09). Other explanations include excessive flexibility among females that could lead to ACL injury (see Sparta Point 1/28/09), and the role of overhead lifting in reducing elbow injuries (see Sparta Point 1/21/09). However, one thing is certain; we cannot identify a major, universal factor that causes these injuries because every athlete has several factors that make them unique.

Your training program should address these individual intricacies. At Sparta, we use a very sensitive instrument called a Force Plate that evaluates athletes’ interactions with the ground during a jump. These interactions are a major source for increased performance and injury risk. If athletes are too quick or too slow off the ground compared to their peers, these extremes indicate a deficiency that needs to be corrected through specific training exercises.

Now I realize that only laboratories have access to such equipment, but the Force Plate only puts a number on what a good coaching eye can already see. These instincts serve athletes and us coaches well, as the exercises we generally dislike the most are the ones that we need to be doing more. Our quicker athletes are performing squats slower, and our smoother athletes are trying to sprint faster.

An old college football coach used to tell me that any player is faster than someone who slipped and fell on the ground. Same advice could be applied to injuries. Hopefully you have a gauge on your injury risk because no matter how successful an athlete, injury prevention should be at the forefront of their training program because a sidelined player can contribute little to the game’s outcome.