Nov 2, 2017
Camp ACL

This article first appeared in the November 2017 issue of Training & Conditioning.

High school athletes spend countless summer hours in camps and clinics improving their sport-specific skills. But all that work will mean little if they are sidelined by an ACL tear. That’s the reasoning behind the Sportsmetrics injury prevention summer camps that are gaining popularity nationwide.

Sportsmetrics is an evidence-based ACL injury prevention program developed by Frank Noyes, MD, Chair and Medical Director of the Cincinnati SportsMedicine and Orthopaedic Center, and his team of athletic trainers, physical therapists, and researchers. It can be implemented at any time of the year, but athletic trainers are finding that presenting it in a summer camp format is particularly effective.

“The athletes don’t have the demands of their playing schedule and school work,” says Emily Pearson, ATC, CSCS, Athletic Trainer at Calvin Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Mich., and a camp host. “That provides a nice window for a lot of injury prevention exercises and drills that we just don’t have time for during the rest of the year.”

The camp Pearson has led for the past three summers meets at her school two hours a day, three days a week, over six weeks through July and August-a total of 18 sessions. “We mostly focus on jump training, which includes a lot of work on proper take-off and landing techniques,” she explains. “We also do strength training and speed and agility drills with an emphasis on deceleration techniques-because a lot of noncontact ACL injuries involve deceleration. And we add in some flexibility and balance training to give athletes a well-rounded workout.

“In addition to the training sessions, we’ve added some educational components,” Pearson continues. “We spend 15 to 20 minutes a day discussing a sports medicine topic, such as how ACL injuries occur, hydration, nutrition, overuse injuries, and so on.”

Before initiating the camp, Pearson-who is employed by Spectrum Health, an integrated health system that places athletic trainers in many Western Michigan high schools-had to attend a two-day training course led by Sportsmetrics personnel. The four athletic trainers she enlists as counselors are a mix of people who have been certified by Sportsmetrics and those who haven’t.

Another preparatory task involved obtaining needed equipment. “Part of the Sportsmetrics program requires video analysis, so we’ve had to get cameras,” Pearson says. “But they provide the software, and we can mostly use equipment we already have for the jump training, strength training, and speed and agility work.”

Pearson’s camp is one of four offered in the area specifically by Spectrum athletic trainers, and there is a nominal fee to cover the costs. “We see the program as part of the injury prevention efforts we provide to the schools and their athletes,” says Phillip Adler, MA, ATC, Manager of the Sports Medicine Program for Spectrum. “At best, they’re a break-even proposition for us financially.”

This past summer, there were 15 athletes in Pearson’s camp. Although they were all from Calvin Christian, she has had athletes from other schools attend in the past.

“Most of the teens who sign up do so at the urging of their parents or coach,” Pearson says. “It can be hard for young athletes to realize the benefit. We’ve had several players at our school suffer serious knee injuries, and that has certainly generated some interest. Our softball coach has been especially active in getting kids to our camp because she thinks it really helps her players.”

Although the program is largely designed to address the increased risk female athletes face for noncontact ACL injuries, Pearson says the camp benefits all athletes, and she has had five boys attend over the years. Plus, she is pleased to report that none of the athletes who have participated in the program have suffered serious knee injuries.

Pearson strongly believes the camp is worth the time and effort she puts into organizing it, but she says it does take dedicated planning. “If you are interested in hosting a camp, do your work well ahead of time,” she advises. “Set everything up a year in advance, if you can. If you wait until February or March to line up staff or facilities, it will be too late. And you have to promote your camp to athletes the minute school starts or you might have trouble getting enough of them to attend.”

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