In this third piece of The Rise in Youth Sports Injuries, I will offer some basic principles of injury prevention by directing you toward articles that detail important ideas related to this concept. Additionally, in Part IV, I will take it a step further by encouraging conditioning/training in four areas that are often neglected. The time spent is well worth the effort.
Most coaches and athletes are aware of the traditional approach to injury prevention. These include wearing of proper equipment (and fitting of that equipment), warm-up and cool down, proper stretching, fluid intake, conditioning and strength-type training, in addition to several other basic preventive measures.
The following articles will help to detail further some of these basic principles:
Sports Preventing Sports Injuries Video by Dr. Gary Brazina
Sports Injury Prevention Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics
Preventing Sports Injuries from the Ohio State University Medical Center
Youth Fitness / Sports from Northwestern Health Sciences University
The advice given in the pieces above are not something to be taken lightly, at least if decreasing the risk of injury is a priority.
At this point, I would like to shift focus a little and provide information that will add to the body of knowledge above by detailing concepts I feel need more attention in many youth sports programs.
This information will focus in four important areas: Functional sports-specific training, core strengthening, proprioception, and improvements in flexibility (rather than just stretching as a warm-up).
Functional Sports-Specific Training
This type of training concentrates on developing an athlete's strength, endurance, speed, quickness, agility, etc. in the specific muscle groups needed for the best performance in the sport participated in. Most importantly, it forces concentration on the actual functioning of the muscles and joints used, making sure that muscles on both (all) sides of a joint are equally trained and that joint movement is well executed.
What this does is create a good balance between all muscle groups involved, thereby helping to protect the joint from injury in addition to enabling greater efficiency and effectiveness of movement.
For example, if an athlete wanted to increase their vertical jump, they not only have to use exercises that increase strength in their quadriceps (front of thigh), gastrocnemius (calves), and gluteus maximus (buttocks), but also the hamstrings (back of thigh), hip flexors (front of hip), abdominals (stomach) and any other opposing muscle groups (muscles on the other side of the joints being used).
This should hold true for any physical skill you are attempting to improve.
Another important piece to functional sports-specific training would include using exercises that mimic what the sport requires. For example, soccer includes sprinting as well as jogging/positioning phases to the game, along with all kinds of lateral, backward, and vertical movements. So it really does not make a lot of sense for soccer players to heavily train using steady long distance running as a core part of their program.
That is not what they do in games and should hold a lot less importance than would wind sprints or any other type running that includes all types of previously listed movements (forward, backward, lateral, vertical).
Please keep in mind that my lists are not comprehensive and are only examples used to help with understanding. I certainly do not claim to be an expert in soccer training.
It will be important to pay special attention to training the inner and outer core areas of the body. They include the muscles of the hip/pelvis, lower, and middle back, sides and abdominal areas. Their functional importance, and support, for all physical movements should not be underestimated. They are essential to keeping the body strong, in balance, and injury-free.
Think of this area of the body as the "foundation" for all movements of your extremities (arms, legs, spine, head); the stronger the foundation (support), the stronger and safer the movement. In addition, the core is a key component in facilitating movement. The stronger the core, the more efficient and effective the movement.
Don't miss the final two training areas covered in Part IV of Brett Favre Not the Only One; The Rise in Youth Sports Injuries - What to do?