Injuries In Youth Sports

buffalo-sports-performanceIf you have a child in athletics, I would hope that you have seen some of the recent literature regarding early specialization and rates of injuries in youth sports. Sports are big business today and with college scholarships on the line, parents and kids are devoting more and more time to perfecting their craft. Between their school team, travel team, and outside lessons in their particular sport, kids are handling an impressive workload – but at what cost? The rates of injury are increasing and something needs to be done. I suggest you be proactive instead of reactive.

At Fred Duncan Performance Training we focus on LTAD or Long-Term Athletic Development. Training is a long-term process. You start with the basics and build a solid foundation, then you continue to build upon each layer. That’s why training on and off isn’t going to be much help. We have a saying here, “if it’s not trained, it’s not maintained.”

I will only give the athlete what they display to me that they can handle. The first few months of their training is extremely general. I am trying to develop the necessary bio-motor abilities to be a well-rounded athlete who is resilient to injury. As they progress, they can handle more.

I have seen hundreds of youth athletes in the Buffalo area since we opened and I’m very underwhelmed. What I’ve seen are a bunch of kids who specialize in one sport, have poor fundamental movement skills, lack of general strength, inability to correctly perform body-weight movements, horribly inefficient sprint mechanics, and a host of postural and mobility issues. Not to mention, the rate of injury is a bit alarming. It is proven that strength training not only increases performance but severely reduces the risk for injury as the graphic below details.


So what’s going on?

Let’s start with the coaches since they should be qualified, right?

Dear “Coaches”, just because you played a sport, that does not mean that you know anything about strength and conditioning. Being put through a workout and knowing a few exercises does not make you qualified, not even in the slightest. I played on the collegiate and pro level and that is not where I learned strength and conditioning. I learned by taking the necessary coursework at a graduate level (anatomy, physiology, bio-mechanics, rehabilitation, neuroscience) AND by studying under one of the greatest strength and conditioning coaches of ALL-TIME (For more on Buddy Morris) for close to 10 years.

And guess what? I still spend every single day reading and studying more to continue to improve my ability to help my athletes. I still have so much to learn and the difference is, I’m not afraid to ask for help. Buddy has openly told me that nobody has ever asked him more questions than I have. You are not doing this. So, like I tell my athletes, I will leave the technical aspect of the sport to YOU (the coach) and you should leave strength and conditioning to ME.


Here’s an example. I recently started training a new travel team of athletes. I gave them all assessments. They were a mess. Last year they had 3 acl tears, multiple hamstring pulls, and a good deal of ankle injuries. These are young athletes (14-15). Now, injuries are not 100% preventable, but there’s a difference between adding to the problem and trying to prevent it. The coach has them do a lot of running and what he considers “sprint work”. So I ask the coach, “Do you track their running volume?” “Does it fluctuate based on where they are in their season? (off-season vs in-season)? “Do you even know what you are looking for when they run?” “Are you doing anything prehabilitation wise?”

The answer to all of these questions was silence, followed by “uh well, not really”. The best part of the conversation was hearing that their “sprint” work was doing miles, that’s not a typo, MILES. So what’s happening is you have coaches who are simply having athletes do things just because they did them. There is no real thought behind it. They take bullshit they see on biggest loser or snippets on ESPN and then blindly throw it at their athletes.

Everything you do should have a specific purpose and if you can’t describe why you are doing it, then you shouldn’t be doing it. This goes for the coaches that sit in on my sessions as well. Trying to replicate what I do with them in the gym isn’t necessary or effective since you don’t know why you’re doing it, what to look for, or how it fits within the overall structure of the program.

At the same time, they were working with people who consider themselves strength and conditioning coaches on the outside as well. The one program was all just lifting weights which is great if you want to be a weight-lifter. No sprint mechanic work, no mobility work, no prehabilitation. Strength is certainly important but it is ONE factor in being an athlete. If it was all about strength, power-lifters would be running 4.3 40’s and dominating sports everywhere. All you need is enough strength to perform your sport. Getting stronger is easy.

672_388511744601466_482532969_nAs Buddy Morris always told me, “It’s easier to get a weak kid, strong, than it is to make a slow kid, fast”.  These young athletes need to be able to easily handle their own body-weight as external resistance before you start throwing heavy loads on them. Strength will help improve speed but understand that sprinting itself is a skill. You must improve their mechanics and this goes far beyond strength.

It requires exceptional attention to detail, repeated exposure, and real coaching. The other guy was a former athlete with zero formal education who focused on the speed ladder, a useless piece of equipment that is best left to obese people on biggest loser. Where did this get them? They’re decently strong for their age but their running mechanics are inefficient, their mobility needs work, and clearly, injuries were a problem.

So how do you know if your kid is working with someone qualified? SHOP AROUND. It’s very easy for people to lie about their resume online, just look at the local performance centers who have kids who played on a team that Buddy Morris coached and then turn that around to say they mentored under him. They have no graduate education and only saw training for their specific sport. Not to mention, they run large groups to maximize profit and pay very little attention to detail. This is not coaching. Every single parent that has switched over to our performance center is shocked at how different it is. Try this – Google their name. See what comes up, see who they write for, and see their actual accomplishments instead of what they tell you they are.

For Parents:

Clearly, you want to give your child the opportunities to succeed. Playing the sport is great and it’s absolutely necessary. However, it gets to a point where they need development outside of their sport as well. I will use a couple examples to explain this. Swimmers, for example, often exhibit anteriorly (forward) rotated shoulders, kyphosis of their thoracic spine (hump-back), and internal rotation of the shoulder leading to impingement, cuff issues, etc. Is swimming more going to correct this? Obviously not. And while these are adaptations to that specific sport, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be training to balance these issues out.

Baseball, tennis, and volleyball are also very tough on the shoulder joint. This repetitive overhead motion very often leads to overuse injuries and potential damage to the shoulder over time. I was one of these overhead athletes who had career ending shoulder surgery after my parents poured thousands into my athletics career. I worked out all of the time but I didn’t know the difference between working out and training for sport. You could wait for this to happen or you could do your best to prevent it.

If you want them to get better, allow them to be developed as an all-around athlete. At a certain point, they already have the technical skills of the sport. It’s the work off of the court that will allow them to perform at a higher level and be less likely to suffer an injury. If this type of training wasn’t important the NFL, NBA, etc. wouldn’t all designate multiple positions to strength and conditioning for their athletes.

For the most well-rounded sports performance training in Buffalo, visit our link here for more information.