Alarmingly, all reports over the last number of years are pointing squarely to the fact that injury incidence among male and female youths has dramatically increased over the past 10-15 years. Not only is the rate increasing, but the age at which significant injury is suffered is decreasing.
Many reasons are posited for these worrying statistics. However my focus is being part of a movement towards a better future - but before we administer the cure we need to understand the root cause(s).
1. BOYS & GIRLS
Very often the same training programs are administered to both youth boys and girls with little focus given to the biological differences between genders and the differences in maturation cycles etc. The result of not acknowledging (or knowing) these vital factors is that girls do not benefit from the interventions that are important towards their welfare and injury-free participation in sport.
Increasingly so, we are seeing playing time organised around a particular sport at younger and younger ages. It is becoming the norm to see ‘representative’ teams of U10, U8 and even younger. The result is placing a much too heavy focus on organised sport at the cost of free-play… furthermore, this is a key in ‘specialisation’ which is leading to kids participating exclusively in one sport and, in turn, repetitive movement patterns and demands. They simply are not exposed to the broad tapestry of movement skills, patterns and stimulus required for a well-rounded development that manifests in gradual but continual adaptation to new situations. Specialisation in late-specialisation sports can and will lead to overuse injuries at increasingly younger ages - not to mention less enjoyment of (or, worse, avoidance of) sports, which in itself could lead to a multitude of health problems and increased risk of domestic injury later in life.
3. INADEQUATE WARM-UPS
Possibly the most important part of the practice/coaching/training session. These 10-15 minutes can provide, if used wisely, the ‘buffer’ and protection that players need towards becoming more injury resilient. Planned wisely, it can actually incorporate hugely important factors that aid performance and skill acquisition. Too often though, we are seeing coaches under time pressure for facilities etc. dropping warm-up time in favour of getting straight into the session, or indeed only performing a cursory warm-up.
4. COACH EDUCATION
A whole article by itself!! By and large coach education is coach qualification and predicated on attending a course for X hours and receiving a cert. Very little, in my experience and research of same, cater towards coaches becoming more educated in the approaches necessary towards understanding the specific needs of youth athletes with a view to passing on the processes and wisdom required to tackle the issue at its root source.
5. KNOWLEDGE GAPS
Coaches are to be lauded for their efforts and time sacrifice for what is, ultimately, an often thankless task. We need to start supporting these coaches by bringing the knowledge to them so that they can drive and advance the player welfare agenda. However, at present, NGBs, clubs and associations are not engaging their coaches on a regular basis with the support they need to understand the issue at hand, or to address it. In an age where dissemination of information has never been easier, you have to wonder: why is this happening?