Extra Time

Fergus Connolly coaching series part three – injuries

Teams that can best deal with the unavoidable issue of injuries will give themselves an advantage over their opponents

Teams that can best deal with the unavoidable issue of injuries will give themselves an advantage over their opponents

In all my years I’ve never seen a fully healthy player at the elite level in any sport.

There is always an imbalance, a ‘niggle’, an injury a player is carrying or concern they are managing.

So with this in mind, coaches and parents must remember playing the games healthy is a case of optimizing performance and reducing risk.

Preventing injury is a game of chance, but with smart care you can really reduce the risk of injury.

Here are 12 basic guidelines and factors to keep in mind when training players to reduce this risk as much as possible.

Every player is unique

Biochemically and physiologically they are all unique and therefore respond to training or physical stress differently. For example even as far back as 1951 Barry Anson at Northwestern University could show differences up to 6 times in size in normal human stomach volumes. In other words we are all very, very unique. Of course when we’re being taught biology this isn’t considered critical to understanding the basics, but in training athletes we need to be aware everyone is special!

Poor strength training practices can overload structures, tissues or joints

Considering the first point above, if training is incorrectly performed injury can happen. In my opinion, there are few contraindicated exercises, only contraindicated athletes. In other words, pick the proper exercises for the player and then execute them safely.

Poor communication in backroom staff

When it came to coaching or backroom staff’s Brendan Rogers used have a saying “small is big”. The smaller the backroom the easier communication is. The faster, better a staff can work together means that players can be prepared properly to avoid injury. It also means everyone isn’t “doing a bit” with a key player or annoying him. The corollary of this is also that no gets left behind.

Playing for multiple teams

If you play multiple sports or even the same sport for multiple teams the increase in load needs to be managed. It’s not the actual games that cause injury, in fact games help avoid injury, it’s the training that can cause injury. Games help prevent injury. Think about it. If you have games each weekend, you take a day or two to recover, a day or two to rest before it, so there’s only 2 training days a week. Perfect, this enough training time each week. If you have 2 weeks off coaches can often use this to over-train players.

Constant repetition and reinforcement of movements

Working with quarterbacks and kickers one will often start to see postural imbalances caused by constant throwing on one side or the other. In football and hurling the same thing can occur. Even though it is on a less serious level it is still significant enough to cause an issue in time.

Training age, playing age and biological age

Training Age is the number of years training. Playing Age is the number of years competing and biological age is the actual calendar age of a player. All are very different and mean different things. For example, a player who develops late or takes up sports late, may be older than his peers, but not have the same training load accumulated and hence play longer. Whereas a player who shows promise earlier can accumulate a heavy physical load earlier and hence be more at greater injury risk. Not to confuse all these things, but then position of the player will also affect this.

Compensation patterns

It’s often cited that the only proven predictor of hamstring injury is previous injury. This is an essentially useless piece of information, but what is more useful to know that there is a very high probability of injury in another related joint. For example, often after a slight ankle injury a knee injury can follow, or after low back stiffness groin soreness follows. This is due to the body attempting to protect the initial site of injury by compensating with another and overloading itself.

Poor training and preparation practices are the single greatest cause of injury

For example, bad planning of weekly training schedules. I’m very lucky at the University of Michigan that Jim Harbaugh who I’ve worked with before at the San Francisco 49ers is the head coach. His awareness of players schedules means that he plans exceptionally well the training loads, but also the training sessions to allow peak play, not just avoid injury.

Lifestyle, diet, sleep and recovery

Lifestyle, especially diet, sleep and recovery affect the injury rates of players more than people realize. The athletes who I’ve seen have successful careers and sustainable success have had the best all round habits. Most will know how to have fun, but overall they have great habits off the field. Players who have worked for me are sick of me saying to them “It’s all about the 22 hours”, in other words, everyone trains hard, but the difference is made away from the gym and training field.

Hardware vs Software

Hardware, the grounds, the footwear, the equipment all affect injury risk. A very simple rule is to lower the stresses by 15% when there are changes to get adjusted to. So if there is sudden changes in ground hardness, shorten an hour long sessions by 12-10 minutes for a period to allow adjustment and acclimatization. Think of it in terms of the software (the body) having to adjust to the hardware (grounds, shoes etc) to prevent injury.

Good recovery practices will help injury avoidance

Be careful not to over use recovery as this will blunt and confuse adaptation responses. But overall good practices and proper timing of them will help the players respond better to practice and training loads. The balance between practice and recovery is important to.

Fatigue can cause injury

Fatigue, no matter the cause, from stress of any kind will cause and affect injury probability. It’s interesting to see how non-field issues affect the players. Coaches should understand that the body has a limit to the amount of stress it can handle. The body doesn’t distinguish or understand there is a difference in stress types – stress is stress and freshness is freshness.

The secret to injury prevention and avoiding burnout also is to know that there is not just one cause.

There are a myriad of possible causes and combinations, and it is rarely just one cause either.

Hopefully following the principles above will help you reduce injury probability and win more games!