While writing my last blog post on landing mechanics and ACL injuries, I came across a study by Parsons & Alexander that was recently published. The study attempts to discover if the use of one video coaching session can help to make positive changes in the landing mechanics of volleyball players. I encourage you to read more about this study on modifying landing mechanics.
Here is a quick summary of the volleyball study:
The researchers took video clips of volleyball players completing a spike jump/landing. They used Dartfish software to give the girls immediate feedback and also to analyze the results in further detail. They measured numerous angles related to landing position at ankle, knee, hip, and torso. The researchers found numerous improvements resulted short term from their video & verbal feedback. While there were some decreases in the results during the 4 weeks prior to retesting, several of the variables maintained a significantly positive improvement. Basically, the one feedback session did help the volleyball players to make and maintain positive improvements.
So, what are the take home points?
Video can play a huge role in helping your athletes to make improvements. Remember that some people are visual learners. Using video can help them to truly understand what you are saying to them in your verbal coaching.
The athletes were able to maintain some of their improvements over 4 weeks. What if there was to be more of an emphasis on the changes in landing mechanics? What if they took 15 minutes a week to focus on them? What if they received visual feedback multiple times with constant verbal coaching everyday? I’m sure that the results would be more significant. As they say, “practice makes perfect”. What would this do the the number of torn ACL’s in volleyball? I’m sure it would decrease it dramatically.
No question that it will go fast. But how does it stop without crashing?
I have previously written about the role of a proper landing in the prevention of ACL injuries. I thought that I would expand on that somewhat. We often think about landing playing a role in basketball and volleyball injuries. I’ve also had it happen to athletes playing football, soccer, and lacrosse. If we take time to carefully evaluate our athletes, many of them in all sports display poor landing mechanics. This can put the knee into an awkward position and can cause extra stresses to be placed on the ACL. Since an ACL reconstruction generally keeps an athlete out of action 6 months, anything that we can do to help prevent these injuries can be huge for our athletes.
So, what can be done to help? We often get into a hurry to get kids running and jumping too fast. In my mind, when car gurus design a newer, faster car, they make sure to spend plenty of time designing and testing the braking system before they take the car on any test runs. It should be the same with athletes. We need to test and train the braking systems before we go crazy with the jumping and running. The simplest way to help your athletes is to teach them how to land properly. Now this isn’t just a 5 minute drill that you do once and never repeat. You have to emphasize landing every time that you do a jumping drill. We all want to see how high or how far the kid jumps. However, it’s probably more important to watch how they land. Yes, you should try to watch and coach everything. Just make sure that you are putting emphasis on the landings.
Want to see the effect that proper landings can have? Myers and Hawkins published a study in 2010 that looked at changes in tibial shear forces when they worked on landing mechanics. They found a 56% decrease in forces when the emphasized proper mechanics. The athletes that they worked with also increased their vertical jump about 2.5 cm. The only negative was the fact that the athletes tended to revert to their old habits once they got tired (see this article on knee landings which discusses the study further).
I think that a 56% decrease in forces could make a huge difference in ACL rupture prevention for athletes. Because of this, make sure to emphasize it during your training.
So how should the athletes land?
Should land on their toes
Keep their knees flexed
Keep their head/shoulders up
A good way to check on their landings is to listen. The athlete should “land softly”. If you hear a loud landing, it’s a good sign they they landed on their heels and probably had their knees straight. This type of landing puts too much force through their ankles, knees, and hips.
As for how to limit the return of bad habits once your athletes get tired, I have two suggestions:
Repetition, repetition, repetition
Make sure to do some of the landing training when the athletes are tired. We all get sloppy when we are tired. Putting them into this stage for some of the training will give you a chance to show them what happens and then correct it.
I spent this past weekend at a volleyball tournament. Most of the players were 12 – 14 years old. With so much volleyball to watch, I tried to use it as a chance to gain a better perspective of the sport. I was trying to look at it from both an ATC viewpoint and a strength and conditioning one. I made several observations, some of which I’ll post later this week.
Today I thought that I would discuss the one that stood out the most. One team had a player that I feel is a recipe for a future ACL injury. First off, I hope that I’m 100% wrong. Now for the facts. The girl was already wearing a knee sleeve on one knee, and probably not by coincidence, she had a bad habit of landing only on that same leg after a jump. She was also somewhat overweight. Now, please don’t read too much into the fact that I said that she’s overweight. I don’t believe that fact itself guarantees a torn ACL. I do however believe that it could contribute if other factors are present. My major concerns revolved around her landing mechanics. While I don’t know the girl or her medical history, I would guess that poor mechanics have led to previous knee problems. My question is this: has anyone else realized this? Have her coaches noticed during the endless hours of practice and games? What about her doctor, assuming she saw one about her knee? The next question is when will they work on her landing mechanics? We all know that poor landing mechanics lead to bad things, especially for female athletes. Unfortunately, the first time this gets addressed may be in rehab after an ACL repair. The sad thing is that a good jumping / landing program might be able to lessen the chance of a serious knee injury ever occurring to this girl.
No matter what sport the athlete plays I’ve always been a big believer in teaching them the role of the athletic position (or stance) while training them. It plays a huge role for athletes in sports such as volleyball, football, baseball, tennis, and basketball. While I think that many coaches try to get their athletes into this position, I’m not sure that they try to explain the importance of this stance to them.
What is an athletic position?
An athletic stance is one in which your feet are about shoulder width apart, your weight is centered on the balls of your feet, your knees and hips are flexed, your torso is leaning slightly forward, and your head and shoulders are up.
Why Is It Important?
While for many athletes, being in an athletic stance my come somewhat naturally, that may not be the case for all of them. Athletes need to be comfortable in this stance and they need to be able to get into (and out of) this stance quickly. Why? Because this stance is involved in many sports. This stance is the one that athlete get into before jumping vertically, it is a defensive position in basketball, it is part of a power clean, and the list goes on and on. If you look at the beach volleyball picture above, the 2 players that are on the ground are in variations of an athletic stance. It’s true that neither one is a perfect example, but we are also looking at an isolated picture. Think about the position that the two other players were in just one second earlier. Right before they jumped, they both would have been in an athletic stance so that they could maximize their vertical jump. Athletes may only stay in an athletic stance for a brief time, but they must be comfortable getting into and out of that stance. If not, it will impact their speed of play and efficiency.
Make sure to include teaching of the athletic stance in your training. It plays a vital role in many sports and your athletes need to be comfortable in the stance. They also need to understand why this stance is important, not only for their specific sport or position, but also the role that it plays in jumping and other skills. With today’s athletes asking “why” more and more, this may help them to understand the importance of this position better.
This is probably one of the most interesting articles I’ve read in a long time. I’ve heard Matt speak a couple of times at clinics and was fortunate enough to get to observe him conduct a training session at UF. I think that he does a great job and this article explains why. Matt puts emphasis on three things in the program:
Developing sport specific athleticism
Injury prevention training
Addressing individual weaknesses
Obviously most of us try to design our programs in a way that the same 3 items are addressed. I do admit that a volleyball team has less bodies to train than some other sports so some things are easier to plan for and incorporate. Regardless, it is a good read and worth your time. I encourage you to check it out.