Dec 16, 2016Four Steps to Success
Athletes are often pushed to their physical limits in order to build muscle and condition themselves for competition. All of these gains are lost, however, if the athlete gets injured. In order to keep your athletes healthy and performing at their highest level, consider following these four guidelines.
Teaching proper technique during practice and in the weight room is an essential part of reducing injuries. For coaches, this means closely supervising drills, catching bad form before it turns into habit, and working with strength and conditioning coaches to develop a well-rounded workout plan.
Tim Crowley, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Montverde (Fla.) Academy, writes about why proper strength training can be so important to preventing injuries in high school athletes. “Many young athletes, especially males, have a bodybuilding mentality when it comes to weight training, focusing solely on muscle size and hypertrophy. Not only can this approach lead to increased injuries, but it can decrease their speed, power, explosiveness, and mobility, as well,” he writes.
In order to solve this problem, Crowley focuses on developing total athleticism when he works with athletes in the weight room. “Specifically, we target movement skills, proper lifting skills, core stability, muscle balance, and Olympic lifting techniques,” he writes.
There are many misconceptions and conflicting opinions over when and how to stretch most effectively. Rich Zawack, president of Athletic Development Corporation with 36 years of high school coaching experience, has provided a comprehensive breakdown of how to properly stretch in order to reduce injuries.
The first step is establishing a safe range of motion (ROM), which refers to an athlete’s ability to reach full extension of a joint and its supporting musculature. Long, slow, static stretches allow muscles to gradually lengthen, and this increases ROM and helps to lower the risk of injury.
“This type of stretching should be done when the body is very warm,” Zawack writes. “When the heart is really pumping and circulation is optimal the muscular system is most flexible. The best time to do long hold stretches is at the end of practice. Kids don’t like to do this because when practice is over, it’s over. But this is the way to set up the next day’s work or competition. This is how you must sell it.”
After establishing proper ROM, athletes should utilize dynamic stretching, which involves performing movements to prepare their bodies before practice or competition.
“The athlete stretches the body but does not hold the position,” Zawack writes. “He or she takes their body to tolerable limits, repeating the same movement many times. This allows the athlete to maximize effort and stay away from injury.”
Teaching athletes about proper nutrition is an area often overlooked by coaches, but it can have a tremendous impact on performance and health. Not every coach is an expert on nutrition, but breaking down a proper diet with your athletes is simple and worth the time. Establish guidelines for hydrating throughout the day, cutting down on sugar, establishing a balanced diet, and consuming enough calories. Small efforts such as these can go a long way in keeping your athletes healthy, energized, and focused.
Alan Rodemaker, Head Football Coach at Valdosta (Ga.) High School, has learned the importance of proper nutrition firsthand. His players burn around 4,000 calories a day from training in the Georgia heat, so he partnered with the booster club to establish a food program that provides free meals and snacks.
“We were wearing them out and we’d struggle towards the end of the year or get into playoffs and lose quick just because we weren’t receiving the right kind of nourishment that we needed,” Rodemaker says. “Now I see that our kids are performing better, they’re making it through practice better, and they’re fresher on Friday nights when we play.”
Rest and Recovery
It might not seem like part of training, but getting enough sleep and taking time to let muscles recover has a major impact on health and performance. The NBA and USA Basketball have established a Health and Wellness working group that recently released a report talking about the importance of rest and recovery for young athletes.
The group calls on parents and coaches to ensure their young athletes get proper rest and are allowed time away from the sport in order to recover, play other sports, and stay motivated.
The report states: “Daily rest is important for injury prevention, sport development and overall health. Rest days should be taken each week, and extended time off should be taken each year for physical recovery as well as to recharge oneself psychologically. Such an approach, along with getting the recommended amount of sleep, helps to maintain motivation for continued participation.”