Predicting A Torn ACL?

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.

Mark

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More Isn’t Always Better – Monitoring For Overtraining

If you deal with high level athletes, overtraining is always a concern.  Of course, even with younger athletes it can become an issue especially if the parents are pushing the kid.  While there is a certain level of work that has to be put in for an athlete to maximize their potential, more isn’t always better when it comes to training.  Overtraining can cause decreases in performance and leave athletes with an increased chance of injury.  Obviously this is the opposite of what we are trying to do.  Overtraining occurs over of a period of time when the athlete is not able to adequately recover from training.  It doesn’t happen just because you have one hard workout.

So how can you monitor your athletes for overtraining?  Here are a few ways:

  • Pay attention during the warm-up – If your athlete just doesn’t have that “bounce in their step” that they normally do, it could be a sign of overtraining.  Watch the drills that the athlete performs and see if it’s just a day that the athlete is taking a little longer to get up to speed or it is a sign of a real issue.  Of course, this tip goes right along with the next one.
  • Talk to your athlete – Want to know how your athlete feels?  Ask them.  Of course, sometimes it helps to know your athlete well.  We’ve all worked with athletes that always feel great and with ones that always have something wrong.  Make sure to talk to your athlete especially before the workout and during the warm up.  This a great time to find out valuable info about eating and sleeping habits and many other factors that can affect their training and recovery.  Ask some questions and if your get some strange responses then make sure to ask more questions.
  • Check their vertical jump – Some coaches advocate using the vertical jump test to evaluate overtraining.  The idea is simple:  an athlete that is overtrained won’t jump as high as they normally do.  This is quick and easy way to check an athlete.
  • Use a questionnaire – Some coaches use a simple questionnaire to get info from the athlete.  The questions are similar to ones that you would ask verbally (ex – “how did you sleep last night?”) but are given in paper form.  While slightly more formal, this can be an effective way to get answers.  It can also enable you to ask some different questions that you might not normally ask during the warm-up (about moods, depression, menstrual changes, etc).  Because of this, it might be a good idea to find or create a questionnaire that can be used occasionally just to get a more complete view of your athletes recovery.

While there are other more expensive ways to monitor for overtraining, such as blood testing, for most of us these are not feasible or necessary.  If you use the above methods you will be able to do an effective job of monitoring your athletes.  This should enable them to continue to improve without any issues.

Mark

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Simple Games for Developing Young Athletes

Kid With Basketball Pic

My wife and I were helping at church this weekend and the kids were playing “red light, green light“.  As I watched the kids play, I realized how much value simple games like this have.  The game makes you start, accelerate, then stop when presented with a stimulus.  Kind of reminds me of sports.  Think about how much time we spend trying to teach athletes these very skills.  As I watched the kids, I tried to watch their footwork as they played.  Did they have perfect footwork?  No.  But you know what?  It wasn’t that bad either.  No one was complaining, nobody was forcing anyone to play, and nobody blew out an ACL.  The kids just had fun.

I remember several years ago when a veteran PE teacher told me that it was terrible that they had taken dodgeball out of the PE curriculum.  He explained that dodgeball teaches kids to throw and helps them to develop agility, coordination, and balance.  Now, I understand that dodgeball has gotten a bad rap because somebody ends up getting picked on in the game.  I get that in the kinder, gentler society that we are a part of, games like this have been pushed aside.  Unfortunately, I believe that the development of athletic skills is a positive that we shouldn’t overlook.

For some reason in the U.S., we are in such a hurry to find the next phenom that we aren’t letting kids play these simple games and develop their basic skills.  We are too much of a hurry to get a kid to specialize on the field or the court so that they can get offered a college scholarship.  There needs to be a major shift in our thinking in this country.  A lot of folks are probably doing more to mess their kids up than they are to help them.  Young kids should spend more time playing “red light, green light”, “tag”, “dodgeball”, and numerous other simple games.  In the end, it would create better athletes who weren’t physical and mental wrecks by the time they are 18 years old.

Mark

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Youth Training & Development Part II

As everyone was putting out their “best of 2011” lists recently, I came across a post that goes right along with my thoughts on sports specialization. It brings up some good points.  Rather than rehash the post, I encourage you to read it and see how well it echos my thoughts.  It also gives us a few new points to think about in the sports specialization argument.  Check it out here  How young is too young to specialize in a sport?

Happy New Year!!

Have a great 2012!!

Mark

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Youth Training & Athletic Development

baby with ball pic

Is this too young to specialize?

There was a good article published recently about developing young athletes.  It focuses on sports specialization in young athletes.  Besides the normal reasons I have used to put down the practice of early specialization, it cites another major one.  It points out that according to much of the work on Long Term Athletic Development, if a child specializes at too early of an age, they will fail to develop basic athletic skills.  The lack of these skills will then limit their overall athletic potential.  I believe that this is 100 % correct.  I recently watched a high school sporting event.  While I was at the event, I spent time analyzing the basic athletic skills of some of the athletes (running form, agility, etc).  While some of the players were certainly gifted, it was obvious that many of them had never been coached on basic running form and footwork.  Many of the athletes on the field were getting by purely on natural ability.  I saw some of the fastest players on the field display poor form.  If they had been trained to run well previously, they would have been much faster.  Not only would they have made their team better, they would have been better individually.  Obviously that should appeal to those who are chasing college scholarships.

So, while early sport specialization can increase the chance of injury for your child, it can also actually limit their overall athletic development.  Ironically, isn’t that the opposite of what certain people keep saying?  It seems that many coaches continue to convince parents and kids that playing one sport year round is the way to go.  My advice when you hear statements like this – don’t believe it!!!  Give your child a chance to try other sports, train to develop their overall athletic skills, and last but not least, to be a kid.

Mark

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Motivation For Sports Training

Any idea how many hours of training it takes for an athlete to perfect their sports skills?  The Soviets believed in the 10 year/ 10,000 hour rule.  They felt that it took an athlete 10,000 hours of practice spread out over 10 years to achieve their maximum potential.  That works out to about 20 hours per week for 10 years.  That doesn’t take into account school, work, family, friends, travel, vacations, and all of the other stuff that seems to fill up our time.

Clock Picture

What motivates you through all the hours of practice?

So, where does an athlete get the motivation to endure all these hours of practice and keep going?

  • Parents?
  • Coaches?
  • Teammates?
While all three of these can give some external motivation, the fact remains that the athlete had better be able to provide their own source of internal motivation. If they can’t, they won’t be able to achieve much.  If the athlete doesn’t want it bad enough, no coach, parent, or teammate can get them to put out 100% effort every day.  We all have days when we feel sluggish or unmotivated.  That’s where external motivation can help.  We all reach points of frustration in our development.  Again, that’s were external motivation from others can help.  However, if the athlete can’t motivate themselves to go all out, to put in extra practice time, to get plenty of rest, to eat right, and to do all of the other things that are necessary to excel,then they will NEVER achieve their fullest potential.
If you work with young athletes, it’s never a bad idea to find some time for teaching about life.  It doesn’t matter if the kid grows up to be an athlete, a salesman, a DJ, a teacher, or anything else, they need to learn the importance of giving 100 % effort so that they can excel in their chosen field.  That’s one lesson that is more important than sports.
Mark 
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Go Speed Racer

Speedy
Is speed important?

The old saying is “Strength thrills, speed kills.  If he’s even, he’s leavin’ “. How true is that saying?  Is speed the most important skill for an athlete? It probably depends on the sport, but for most athletes, speed plays a huge role in how competitive they are.  Isn’t speed largely genetic?  Can you really make someone faster with training?  Yes!!!

Every year, potential draftees for the NFL, NBA, and other sports leagues spend lots of money to work with sports performance experts prior to the draft.  Their goal is to improve their strength, speed, and other measurable factors so that they can get drafted higher.  While some of these athletes have track backgrounds that have helped them out, many of them have gotten by on genetic speed ability alone.  Once they focus on speed training for 4-6 weeks, it isn’t uncommon for some of them to shave .2 of a second off of their 40 yard times.  Keep in mind that these are some of the best amateur athletes in the world.  They have been training hard for years and they are still able to make major improvements in their speed when they receive focused training on their form.

How does this apply to other athletes?  Try this for starters – the next time you go watch a youth sporting event, pay attention to how many times a kid gets beaten by two steps or less.  In soccer, how many times does a kid get beaten to a free ball?  In baseball, how many baserunners get thrown out by a step or two?  In football, how many times does a player need an extra step or two to get by (or catch) another player?  From watching all of the sporting events that I have in my life, I can say that it happens A LOT!! One or two steps often makes all of the difference.

So, is speed the most important skill for an athlete to have?  It is more important in some sports than others, but in most sports the fastest athletes have a distinct advantage.  When you compete don’t you want to have that extra step or two?  I’d bet that you do.  Keep this in mind when you train.

Mark

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5 Reasons Genetic Testing Of Athletes Is Wrong

Track athlete

"Don't worry son, it's your parent's fault that you can't run track. They gave you bad genes. That's why you failed the genetic test."

Genetic Testing of Athletes

It’s hard to believe, but one day this could be the reality.  Little Johnny (or Susie) could be told that they can no longer play a sport because ‘they don’t have the right genes for it.”  In case you haven’t heard about it, there are now companies out there who will provide genetic testing of kids for athletic purposes.  The companies claim that they are trying to help the parents so that their kids can be steered to sports that they are the most suited for.  I’ve got some problems with this whole concept.

5 Reasons Genetic Testing of Athletes Is Wrong

  1. Specialization – Don’t we have enough of an issue with kids specializing in one sport too early?  Isn’t this going to make things that much worse?  In case you aren’t aware of my views of focusing on only one sport, you can read my thoughts here.  There are a lot more athletic and medical personnel who share my viewpoint due to burnout issues and physical wear and tear on the bodies of young athletes.  The testing companies say that it will save you money because you won’t put your child in something that they won’t  be that good at.  Of course they’re going to say that – they are selling their product.
  2. Goes Against What Sports Teach – You remember all of the things that sports teach a kid – hard work, dedication, perseverance, teamwork, not giving up, etc.  Guess what?  Genetic testing robs your kid of the chance to learn many of those basic things.  If they are put into something that will always come easier to them than some other sports, then how will they learn to do something when it is difficult for them?  Additionally, if you already know that you have the necessary tools, what’s the motivation to work hard to develop them further?As for teamwork, one of the issues with teams is that every person is not exactly the same.  You have to learn to work together and realize your strengths and weaknesses.  That might be hard to do in a sport where all of the athletes have the same gifts.
  3. Injury Information – One of the factors behind genetic testing is that it could possibly identify players who are at risk for certain injuries.  Maybe there is some benefit to this in certain cases.  However, most of the parents who most want the testing done on their kids are focused on one thing only – a college scholarship!!  Guess what parents?  As soon as your future college coach finds out that you are at greater risk for certain injuries, oops, there goes the scholarship down the drain.  Years ago I was involved in a discussion about female ACL tears and femoral notch width as a factor.  The discussion eventually turned to the a question of what would happen if college coaches ever wanted to know this information about potential signees.  Ethics dilemma?  You bet!
  4. Telling Kids Something Else They Can’t Do – It seems like in our modern society, we’ve become the ultimate people organizers.  We want to label everyone!  The world has turned into a place that has provided an excuse for everyone and whatever they do.  Do we really need to put more labels on kids?  Why can’t we just let them be kids?  Why do we have to tell them that they won’t be good at something else?  For many kids sports is a temporary escape from “life”.  Maybe we should keep it that way.
  5. Do We Need A Test? – I understand that the test gives exact details about what a kid is capable of.  Do we really need a test for this?  If you want to know if a kid is fast, have him race other kids.  If you want to know if he’s a good jumper, test his vertical jump.  As a young kid, training won’t have had much of an effect yet.  Just compare your kid to other kids and see how they perform.  If they are naturally fast, or strong, or whatever else, then you probably know enough.

Let The Athletes Be

Obviously somebody thinks that this is a good idea (probably the people making money off of the tests).  I’m all for using technology to help coaches and athletes.  I just think that genetic testing goes too far.  I like the excitement of seeing someone develop and use their God given ability, regardless of what that is.

Mark

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