Commentary

Coaches are in a powerful position to help kids stay healthy

"Are you as a coach demonstrating that you value your players not just for their performance on the field?"
-- Danielle Slaton

On-field injury recognition, coping with multiple-game weekend play, overuse injuries, and the benefits of introducing injury-prevention exercises at earlier ages were among issues discussed during U.S. Club Soccer's February "Health and Safety Webinar."

"We started with high school-age athletes," said Holly Silvers, a member of U.S. Soccer men's and women's national medical team, who along with the Santa Monica Sports Medicine Foundation's Dr. Bert. R. Mandelbaum helped develop the PEP Program and the 11+ injury prevention warm-up. "We realized that was probably a little too late. Bio-mechanically, when we look at these young kids developing, we noticed that are real deficiencies we can identify even as early as 8 and 9 years old.

"We made some modifications to the program because what’s applicable to a 14-year-old is not pertinent to an 8-year-old, so we’ve modified some of the programs, like the PEP Program, and there’s a kids’ version to the FIFA 11-plus program. You can implement this as early as 8 and 9. The idea is to basically create a vaccination of sorts. If we can prevent some of these deficits from being entrenched from a motor learning perspective, early on, that we can mitigate risk going forward."
Further reading: FIFA 11+ For Kids Manual and FIFA 11+ For Kids Poster

Silvers was on the Webinar panel, hosted by ECNL President Christian Lavers, along with orthopedic surgeon Dev Mishra (Sideline Sports Doc), sports scientist, coach and coach educator John Cone (Fit for 90), Tyrre Burks (Players' Health) and former U.S. national team player Danielle Slaton (Positive Coaching Alliance).

Mishra on overuse injuries and low-back stress fractures: "As a coach, you’re going to typically be the first one to evaluate an injury, or you’ll be the one to notice a change in a player’s performance. One area that is incredibly common in young soccer players and really all young athletes is overuse injuries. It’s become an epidemic in some sports. I’m seeing a rise in lower-back stress fractures in soccer, lacrosse, gymnastics, tennis and lifting sports. We can catch this early on, and maybe when it’s just a muscle issue, it might be just a couple weeks off from play. But if a player keeps trying to push through this, those stresses get transferred to the bone, eventually the bone can crack, and that results in a stress fracture. Average return to play after spine stress fracture is around six months, some never heal."
Further reading: Low Back Pain In The High School Athlete: Early Intervention Is The Key

Slaton on a culture of trust: "What kind of environment as a coach can we create so you are having the communication, the open channel, the culture of trust so that if an athlete feels something in their lower back or some other injury, how as a coach are you creating that environment so an athlete can come to you and mention it -- so it’s not only on the coach to recognize this thing? Are you demonstrating ways that you value your players not just for their performance on the field, but in other ways. How are you building that culture of trust over time, learning about your players, who they are as people, so you can understand the differences and nuances with the players. That's huge piece when it comes to injury prevention. ... As a coach understanding the climate of pressure that a lot of these young athletes are under. ... There’s this fear, "What if I lose my spot. What if I can’t play in that one game where these college people are watching."
Further reading: Positive Coaching Alliance Resource Center

Cone on reducing injury risk on multiple-game days and weekends: "Manage the fitness load ... tapering the week before the players are going to play multiple matches. ... We need to effectively rotate the roster as much as possible. While we want to win, it should never be at the risk of injury and the well-being of the player. We have to effectively manage the players, so that we're not getting this accumulation of minutes, accumulation of game load over the course of the weekend, or we're minimizing it as much as possible. So we're giving each player the greatest chance of not just success on the weekend, but success over time. When we come out of those weekends, the next piece is allowing the players time to recover. We have a big stimulus on the weekend, if we give them ample time to recover and adapt from the training load of the games, they will bounce back and be at a higher level than when we entered it.

"How are we micromanaging that window of time outside of the game? Mobility work after the game. Pool recovery I've found to be very beneficial. Nutrition. Hydration. Sleep. It takes a comprehensive approach to survive these weekends ...

Cone on college recruiting at tournaments: "There's a lot of college recruiting going on at these events. I think we have to be especially aware of how driven the kids are in all these games. If we look at the data coming out of these weekends, we can see the fatigue that's occurring in those later games, but there's still college coaches lining up on the side of the fields, and that's pushing the kids well beyond -- because their motivation is so high. Maybe we need to articulate to the college coaches, don't come to the last day of the tournament. It's additional stress on the kids. We know they're not performing to their best potential. ... There are a lot of things that go into successfully managing these windows of time that we know are too much and hopefully in the end we can start to move away from the current norm to increase the likelihood of success for each individual athlete."

4 comments about "Coaches are in a powerful position to help kids stay healthy".
  1. Ray Lindenberg , February 14, 2018 at 3:18 p.m.

    Both this YSI post, and the other most recent one on knee injuries and immediately seeing a Dr or go to an ER, while certainly valuable to give careful consideration to, seem to come up a quart low on perhaps a more vital part of the youth health and safety equation. Coaches aren't simply "in a powerful position to help kids stay healthy". By dint of their acceptance of the charge of coach, they are fully responsible to deliver a safe and healthy enviroment to the kids. It is a core requirement of coaching.

    It starts with the quality of training, and the emphasis that must be put in making sure the players come prepared in a well-nourished and healthy condition -- meaning that a coach should at least once spend 15-30 minutes with the players to get them to appreciate the importance of respecting theiir bodies and health, what to eat and do in beween practices/games, and how not doing so is not only detrimental to themselves, but also to their teammates and the team. Coaches need to underscore that a good player is also a healhy and responsble player. Too many coaches view their charge as simply the skills developer, X's and O's guy, and perhaps the disciplanarian and cheerleader.

    Coaching is much, much more than that -- and at the top of the list of a coach's coach's responsibility (in addition to encouraging the players to be good students and respectful citizens) is that they eat and behave healthily, and thus be optimally prepared physically, nutritionwise and, in turn, mentally to compete at top form. By doing so, they'll largely reduce the amount of player injuries, severity and recovery time.

    And a big part of this responsibility is achieved through appropriate warm-ups, stretching, and waking up the muscle goups by getting the blood pumping more oxygen to them so that they are more supple and reactive. I see this as a terrible oversight by way too many coaches who allow kids to walk onto a field to practice or play, and start kicking and running wihout at least 10-15 minutes of proper, professional soccer warm-ups. It's a travesty!

    In no sport, AND AT NO AGE should a child be allowed to participate without going through the paces of properly warming up. Even toddlers and tykes whose body and muscles are plenty flexible -- they should be stretching and waking up their muscles for 10-15 minutes -- and learn the professional approach to prepare one's body properly to practice and play, starting their day 1 in any sport. Prevention and valuing health and safety is arguably every bit as critical as how to handle injury -- and coaches need to wholeheartedly embrace that responsibility.

  2. Ben Myers, February 15, 2018 at 12:33 p.m.

    I agree with Ray wholeheartedly, especially his statement "they (coaches) are fully responsible to deliver a safe and healthy enviroment to the kids."  One of the most serious challenges for not just soccer, but all youth sports in this country, is ratchet up the awareness of a coaches' responsibilities to their players.  All too often, with the large numbers (but on a downward trend) of youth sports participants, clubs and leagues draft coaches lacking any experience or insight as to what their responsibilities really are.  No training either.

  3. Bob Ashpole, February 15, 2018 at 1:20 p.m.

    In assessing myself as a soccer coach, one of my weak areas was in the "strength and conditioning" area. The label itself is misleading. I knew my way around a weight room and a track. This much broader subject is athlete performance improvement (in any sport).

    It is not enough to know a sport. A coach should also know how to improve athletic performance. It is a different way of looking at things, focusing on movements. For instance, Pep Guardiola has used strength and conditioning coaches to help design (and conduct) the specific exercises for training sessions. Not just youth, but first team training too.

    Warmps will help prevent injury, but they will not prevent overuse injuries.

    As for PEP and FIFA 11+, they are strength training programs, but not done in a weight room. Yes, warmup exercises are included in the programs. The doctors are talking about biomechanical deficiencies in young children. Not simply a lack of warming up, but improving the technique of the athletes while they are warming up. 

    Thanks for another great article, Mike. 

  4. Ray Lindenberg , February 15, 2018 at 3:20 p.m.

    Just a point of clarity: warm-ups are not only injury preventative measures before practcing and playing soccer ... they're also what needs to occur prior to strength and conditioning. Warm-ups are desgned to do just that: to 'warm-up' and wake up muscles and groups so that they are receiving more freshly pumped oxygen through the blood. Muscles are more supple and respond better to being flexed, stretched, pushed and receiving trauma when they are warmed up properly. Just because a person is awake, doesn't mean their muscles are too. More blood pumped throughout the body and to the brain also results in better listening, learning and playing.

    With my toddler as well as teen groups' 60-minute sessions, I employ a variety of warm-up aerobics, yog-calistenics and pilates movements and stretching exercises for the first15 minutes prior to having them touch the ball 300+ times in various drills, and then of course the free-style kickball scrimmages to their hearts' content. And I invite and urge the parents to partake in the warm-ups (and not only if there are any disabled or autistic children in my class). Makes for great parent-child bonding, too, which is a big plus.

    Think outside the box. Strenghth and conditioning are the equivalent of a sport unto itself. Kids from 3 to 16 y/o ought to stretch before playing any sport, even though their muscles are flexible and supple. Get them into good athletics and sporting habits from the get-go. Don't ignore and push back at parents involvement in your team's play and practice ... instead, find ways to get them involved and incorporated into the session plan where feasible (under your conrol and terms) ... they can be outsanding resurces for you. And embrace the entirety of what coaching is responsible for ... from skills development, to personal development, to health and safety monitoring, managing and appreciation.

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