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Commentary Jun 04, 2014

LeBolt: Youth teams getting it right in pregame warm-ups, but still work to be done


I loved seeing all those teams warming up on the pitch before their games over the last couple of weekends.

That didn’t happen in the old days. The old days being 5-10 years ago, before we knew that warm up was so important to our players’ preparation, performance and protection from injury. Our youth team’s coaches are dutifully standing by and watching their players take the time to do these drills. Everybody has a different flare and style, but in general we’re getting it so much more right.

stars united

Of course, I have an eye out for this because I have been preaching (and teaching) the injury prevention warm-up for more than 15 years. Now, it’s a whole lot easier to see in those neon green socks. It’s hard to believe we used to settle for plain old black and white. That’s progress.

So, well done, coaches! But let’s not rest on our laurels. There’s more work to do. I know because I just came back from the American College of Sports Medicine Conference. Every session, poster, presentation, symposium, and even the conversations in the coffee lines center on how to make our sports healthier and better.  Thousands of people from all over the world came together to debate and share the latest in research and practice with regard to worldwide sport.

Honestly, I felt like a bit of a thief, going and stealing all the good ideas so I can bring them back to the field. But it’s guilt-free so go ahead, one of the researchers told me. His research looked at whether athletes with ACL repairs (2 years after surgery) showed any difference in jump landings compared to control subjects. They didn’t. Good stuff.

But what spending four days in scientific meetings has planted firmly in mind is that we can’t rest with regard to getting this right. The importance of instilling in our athletes the correct movement of foot, ankle, knee, hip and trunk is essential for ACL protection. The need for stronger necks, backs and upper bodies, plus less collision and better technique is imperative to address the rising tide of concussion conversation.

The thing is, those folks are scientists – they care about hypotheses, data and conclusions. We are coaches – we care about kids. Our job is to take the good science and put it into practice. But that gets complicated with so much information out there.

[ + READ: Postgame is when pregame begins: Eat, drink, rest, play]

So let’s cut to the chase. If there was one take-home for me it was this: Our players are weak in their trunk and torso.  Trunk instability leads to compensation by the knee in cutting and jumping mechanics which increases their risk for knee injury, especially ACL tear. Trunk and torso weakness leads to inefficient and potentially dangerous body position for heading and physical challenges on the field, inviting concussion.

Not us, you might say. Not here in the hotbeds of youth soccer — Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Illinois, California, you know who you are. Here, we are strong. We train a lot – our kids workout! No, we’re not. Not as strong as in the old days. You know, 5-10 years ago when the screen was not yet king and the hand held device did not rule our lives.

I can tell as I watch from the sidelines. Kids cannot execute those lunges you are having them do in warm-up without using their hands to push themselves up. They cannot stay upright in the challenge from the side. They buckle and collapse in their upper body in their approach to the header.

Not to mention they slouch when they sit and they sag when they’re hunched over their phones. We’ve got a problem standing upright, folks. Amazing how 10 years of technology has us favoring our ancient ancestors more than ever before. Our core muscles are weak, and they are meant to be the anchor for every movement we execute.

But first let me dispel a misunderstanding: we’ve got to stop calling 100 situps “core strengthening.” That’s abdominal strengthening, but our core goes all the way around. Front, back, sides and everything in between. We have to get after the core strength to firm up our play and to keep injuries at bay. Not to mention, it looks great in a bathing suit.

So how? Plank holds to the front and sides and upright body to body isometric challenge both work well on the field. Medicine ball tosses and twists from standing, kettle bell swings, forward reaches with hand weights while squatting, or alternate arm and leg reaches using an exercise ball. Here are 3 posts at that tell you more about some of these exercises.

[+ READ: Field exercises for a strong core]

[ + READ: Plank exercises or a strong core]

[ + READ: Fitness ball exercises for a strong core]

Anything that causes the center of the body to tighten so we can reach, pull, lift or press works the core muscles.

Want to make it even easier? Tell your players that every time they type a text message they have to contract their abs. (You may want to take the challenge yourself.) That may sound simple, but it’s getting at the root of the problem. We’ve got lazy core muscles. When we sag and sit, our backs are taking the brunt it and suffering in silence until they get our attention in painful ways. We need to come to their rescue.

Never knew injury prevention could be so simple, eh?

Next week I’ll may tackle another topic from the convention: Should Couches Be Sold with a Health Warning? There’s an exception to every rule. I’m thinking World Cup time is that exception.

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