It may be tempting to keep up a training schedule after the season but Hillary Plummer, an athletic trainer and doctoral student at Auburn University’s School of Kinesiology, gives different advice.
“One of the most important things to do following a season of play is to take time off from training to recover, both physically and mentally,” Plummer said. “The body will adapt to the stresses that are placed on it, and if repetitive forces are applied and the body doesn’t have adequate time to recover, the risk of injury will increase.”
Taking time off doesn’t mean being inactive, however. During the off-season, athletes should focus on addressing weak areas to prepare for the next season. Even after working with elite athletes from a variety of sports, Plummer notes, “I am still amazed by some of the basic deficiencies that have never been addressed. Many athletes, from youth to Division I, lack core stability. Core stability plays a huge role in the risk of injury to athletes.”
“Children should be encouraged to play multiple sports, not only to help prevent injury and burnout, but also to help them develop and refine other sport-specific movement patterns that will help make them better overall athletes.”
—Hillary Plummer, Auburn University School
of Kinesiology doctoral student & athletic trainer
Core Stability is Key
Numerous studies confirm that a lack of core stability and neuromuscular control can lead to non-contact knee injuries in athletes of all ages, Plummer explained. For example, “During landing and cutting tasks, a lack of core stability can lead to the knee collapsing inwards or internally rotating which can lead to ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury. Because of this, I am a big proponent of training programs that emphasize core stability and neuromuscular control.”
Young athletes should incorporate core-strengthening, isometric body weight exercises into their off-season training. “These exercises can be performed with little risk of injury but will have a huge benefit,” Plummer said.
Isometric exercises to try:
• Planks • Side planks
• Supermans • Flying Squirrels
Target Weak Muscle Groups To Avoid Injury
Overhead Sports- Baseball/Softball, Volleyball, Tennis - Back, Shoulder, Rotator Cuff
Lower Body Sports- Basketball, Soccer, Running- Hips, Knees, Ankles
Full Contact Sports- Football, Lacrosse- Full Body Strength
Coaching Off the Field
Every athlete is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all training program—what may work well for one athlete may be too intense for another. Plummer recommends that coaches help athletes develop a carefully planned training regimen offering varied intensity and adequate rest time.
“Coaches should emphasize proper form during exercises, and athletes should be able to perform each exercise with little to no weight before weight is added,” she said.
A few more tips coaches can use to help reduce injuries:
• Have an adult who knows proper lifting technique supervise all
youth training programs
• Limit high-intensity training to 2-3 days per week
• Schedule at least one day off between high-intensity sessions
for adequate recovery
How Much Time Off?
Athletes who don’t rest and train properly during the off-season increase their risk for injury and burnout. Mark Fuller, sports trainer and former Auburn University pitching coach, recommends taking at least two months during the year where the primary muscles used for a sport are shut down.
Overhead athletes should avoid throwing a baseball, swinging a racket or spiking a volleyball for eight weeks. Likewise, running and full-body contact athletes should allow the same amount of time for their primary muscle groups to rest.
“Although 62 percent of organized sports-related injuries occur during practice, one-third of parents do not have their children take the same safety precautions at practice that they would during a game.”
How Does Playing Multiple Sports= Rest?
It’s a good idea for young athletes to play multiple sports, if they want to. “When you play a different sport, you use different sets of muscles and rest the muscles from the previous sport,” Fuller said.
For example, a basketball player who plays baseball or softball in the spring uses more upper body muscles, giving the lower body muscles a break. It also provides a mental “rest.” “The practices are different, game situations challenge different movements and thought processes and the intensity levels are different,” Fuller said.
Look for training programs that involve the entire body and focus on sport-specific muscles. “If kids are going to play extended seasons, they must be on some kind of off-season training program,” Fuller said. “There is too much wear and tear to play and not prepare through a strength, flexibility and dynamic movement routine.”
Beware of Burnout
Parents should be aware of how often and how intensely their teen is training. Specializing in one sport also can increase the risk of burnout.
“Listen to your kids. Parents, above everyone else, need to evaluate what is planned before saying ‘yes’ to the team. If the schedule looks ‘crazy’ it’s OK to say NO,” Fuller said. “Once you agree to play, it’s hard to change course.”
Ask these questions before your teen commits:
• How long are practices?
• How many practices are scheduled?
• How many tournaments are scheduled?
• Does the team have a break with no practice/competition
Most importantly, parents should avoid putting unnecessary pressure on their teens. Don’t over- emphasize winning. “Tell them you love them, and simply enjoy watching them compete,” Fuller said. “They are an athlete for a very small window of time but they will be your son or daughter for life.”