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Advice Sep 08, 2013

It’s injury prevention – just don’t tell the kids

By Dr. Wendy Lebolt

Editor’s note: This is the latest column from Dr. Wendy Lebolt, a longtime coach and physiologist who is the founder of Fit2Finish, a Northern Virginia-based training, fitness and rehabilitation company which works with teams and individual players to maximize health and performance. The Soccer Wire is excited to present Wendy’s learned perspectives on the mental, physical and psychological aspects of the beautiful game. Learn more about her background here.

“Injury prevention” used to be a bad word. I used to avoid saying it because I felt like it was a threat, that ‘If your kid didn’t do what I told him, he was gonna get injured.’

Now when I go to talk to groups or work with teams, it’s no longer taboo. Everybody says it. In fact, it’s often how I get introduced: “Girls, this is Dr. Wendy. She’s a specialist in injury prevention.” I always want to shush them. Let’s not talk about injuries, if they don’t have any already. It almost seems like suggesting it will make it more likely.

It doesn’t. I’m glad we’re talking about it, and not because it’s good for my business. Just don’t tell the kids. Really. The kids don’t care about injuries. Why should they? They’re healthy! They’re not thinking about injuries, not worried about injuries, couldn’t care less that So-and-so got injured. Unless So-and-so is their friend or sibling, in which case they care about the injury only long enough to know when their friend will be better or their sibling will stop getting all the attention.

Let’s be honest here. Parents and coaches are the ones who care about injuries, mostly because we have been injured. It hurts and we don’t want our kids to hurt. To have to go to the doctor or worse, the surgeon, and then have physical therapy and rehab. And then they come to me because the kid “just isn’t moving the same way.” Or they “just don’t have the confidence they did before.” Or “they have lost some speed/endurance/power/quickness.” Yep, all of that comes with the territory.

Then there are the ones who just don’t have it in them to come back. Or the ones who do but just can’t.

Folks, let’s talk amongst ourselves about injuries. We hate them. We want to avoid them. When they happen, we have to deal with them. But let’s not bring them up with the kids. To them I am Dr. Wendy, the lady who helps them become stronger and faster and quicker on the ball. Kids are all about performance. Play is what they do best.

Adults worry. And worry wearies.

The athletes I see who have come out of surgery or are working their way back after a tough injury have my complete admiration. They are diligent and persistent in the battle back. But all those parents tell me the same thing: “Prevent this. Don’t let this happen to anyone else’s kid.”

That’s about as honest as it gets.

If you are not running an injury prevention warm up with your players. Start. And make sure your players know that practice begins when warm up starts. Insist they get it right — so they’ll play better. Only YOU need to know it will also prevent injuries. Here’s a sample dynamic warm up.

If your players are over 12, make injury prevention drills part of your practice. Disguise them as agility, strength, plyometrics and team fun. Here’s one I call “hop and shove.”

Make sure they bend their knees, land lightly on the balls of their feet and keep their bodies upright, so they can see the action coming at them. That makes for good soccer. Only the parents need to know it’s so much more than that.

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