Sports put a real beating on the body. Knees, ankles, feet, and hips are all subject to injury just through normal game play.
A lot of this has to do with how frequently athletes are playing games. For example, soccer has one of the highest injury rates of all sports. A typical soccer season has fall and spring with an indoor session in the winter. Oh and plenty of camps/clinics to go around in the summer.
As a result, a soccer player never gets a chance to rest. When they are constantly playing games the fatigue in their body starts to build. Injuries happen when the body is under fatigue. More games will result in more injuries.
The problem with this kind of fatigue is that it is hard to monitor. The athlete is not always going to necessarily “feel” it. They may however be run down, overly irritated, or lacking motivation to play. You can see why young athletes might have an issue with this because of lot of them act in that way without being fatigued.
We have a two step strategy for reducing the amount of stress that is placed on our athletes. The first is to monitor and limit how much they play throughout the year. In a perfect world they would take half of the year to do things other than play their sport. They need at least one season off.
The second half of the strategy is to best prepare the athletes for the demands of the sport. I have gone at length talking about how important strength training is for building resiliency. I am not going there today other than saying that weak athletes are not going to perform at a high level and be at a higher risk for injury.
When we train for speed and agility there are some techniques that will help with durability. Good speed and agility training goes beyond ladder and cone drills. The athlete should be given the chance to learn how certain techniques work and then they are given the chance to reinforce those techniques, which could be through cone drills.
Athletes should be able to:
Land on One Leg
A lot of young athletes struggle to properly land on one leg. They should be bending the knee, sinking the hips back, and absorbing the jump. This should result in minimal sound and the athlete should stick the landing balanced.
This is important because most injuries happen when the body is decelerating. Landing on one leg teaches how to slow down from a jump. This will in turn create a foundation for better change of direction. The athlete will also be better suited to handle the large amount of force that comes with decelerating.
Load the Body to Change Direction
If you ask most athlete to change direction, they are going to stick a foot in the ground and turn around. This is slow and ineffective.
Loading the body is another form of decelerating. To do this the athlete must come from a sprint to bend the knees and hips.
When the body is properly loaded then we can ask it to violently explode in the opposite direction. This is the part that helps create quickness.
Athletes that struggle to load the body are going to be at a higher risk for injury because of the high forces associated with deceleration. Once they learn this they will also become a lot quicker in their sport.
Running on the High Arch of the Foot
Running on the heels to accelerate is going to cause a whole mess of problems.
This type of running can be related to shin splints, knee pain, foot and ankle issues, and slow speed.
Acceleration is picking up speed and lasts for about 20 yards. Running for more than 20 yards is a different technique and rarely happens in sport. When an athlete is trying to sprint they cannot run on their heels nor their toes. They must be on the front half of the foot, the high arch.
Making this change in sprinting will help athletes run faster as well as taking some of the impact out of the lower body.
The amount of athletes that run on their heels is a high number just like the amounts of lower body pain that young athletes should not experience.
Making these three changes above will be helpful for improving speed but also preventing injury. An athlete can be as talented as possible but if they are not in the game because of injury then they are not really serving their purpose. Competing at a high level and staying healthy are related.