Did I get your attention? I hope so.
Listen, I know full well this is a mentality thing. Some parents think their kids are bulletproof. On the other side of the coin, are parents and coaches who would like nothing more than to bubble wrap their kids. The majority of you are in the middle somewhere. You realize there’s inherent risk with any physical activity.
But why the seemingly uncontrollable rise in youth sports injuries (and at a younger and younger age I might add)?
- ACL sprains, tears and ruptures
- Meniscus tears
- Hip avulsion fractures
- Stress fractures
- Bone bruises
- Quadriceps tears
- Hamstring strains
- Compartment Syndrome
- Ankle sprains, strains and fractures
- Grade 3 adductor strain
- Gastrocnemius (Calve Muscle) tear
- Torn Glute Medius and Maximus
I’ve seen all of this in the past 12 months alone, and all in kids under the age of 16, some under the age of 10!
Why is this happening and why are more severe non-trauma related injuries on the rise?
Let’s all pull together and minimize the risk of our young athletes falling prey to a needless injury that could very well have been avoided.
NOTE: The absence of pain does not equate to health. Many of the injuries that occur were festering over time like a volcano ready to erupt.
I’ve implored the help of one of the best soccer performance coaches in the World, Erica Suter from Baltimore, MD, to lend a hand in laying this out for you.
We’re going to be straight up to the point here. You’ll see a list of causes with a brief description to follow. The MOST IMPORTANT thing to digest will be our succinct thoughts on how to remedy that situation.
Beware: before you digest what you’re about to read, you need to chew on it and swallow! Erica and I aren’t going to sugar coat this and it might result in you making some tough decisions.
This inventory is comprised of the most common behaviors and characteristics we see associated with injured players. When we ask a series questions to investigate why an athlete is suffering, one or more of these is usually present. It’s the ugly truth.
Let’s get this party started.
- Year-round sports skill training – Most youth sports, especially privatized club sports require a year-round commitment with little to no time for other activities. The repetitive motion and rehearsed practices are reducing the level of athleticism to increase single sport skill.
Remedy: Take breaks! There are separate sports seasons for a reason! If they need or desire more practice they can do that on their own.
- Early Specialization – A study at the University of Marymount by Dr. Neeru Jayanthi cites that athletes that specialize (play only one sport) are 70% to 93% more likely to be injured.
Remedy: In an ideal world our kids would still play outside with no coaches present to explore movement and athleticism and creativity on their own. Allow young athletes to play multiple sports but only one per season.
- Growth Spurts – The important thing here is to recognize we cannot fight human development. A young athlete’s body is constantly changing physiologically, biologically and hormonally. Discomfort and pain are often associated with the biggest rapid change in height.
Remedy: Let it happen. We cannot rush Mother Nature but we can help a young athlete though these growth spurts with a proper Long Term Athletic Development Program.
- Malnourishment – Many of the athletes I see on a day to day basis are not eating enough or enough quality foods throughout the day. This affects them physically and mentally.
Remedy: Young athletes will eat what is available to them. Great nutritional habits start at home. Should eat for health first and performance second.
- No Athletic Foundation – Young athletes today are, in general, far less active than previous generations. Running, rolling, crawling, climbing and uncoached free play are at a minimum and this is where our best athletes built the foundation to last a lifetime.
Remedy: Turn off the electronics and get them outside. Enroll them in an early gymnastics program or an established Long Term Athletic Development Program that has a curriculum designed specifically for young kids.
- Lack of coordination – Reactivity, rhythm (timing), balance, spatial and kinesthetic awareness, object manipulation and contra-lateral coordination are all learned over time as a young athlete. This does not happen, however, on the soccer field.
Remedy: Childhood games are a primary source for all of these skills. It’s never too late to engage is game play for performance as well as safety.
- Poor mechanics – Sprinting, changing direction and accelerating are all skills sets that can be taught but are lost with an over load of sports practices and games. The proper mechanics are more difficult to learn with permanence the old the athlete is.
Remedy: Skipping, running and sprinting uphill and avoidance games like various iterations of tag will allow a young athlete to teach themselves better movement patterns and mechanics. A strength and performance coach can help refine these skills for safer, efficient and more effective speed and agility on the field.
- All or none mentality – We here about this all the time. “My son is either on the couch doing nothing or at practice”. This results in a slower, weaker, deconditioned player that is more prone to injury.
Remedy: Acknowledge youth sports is NOT a replacement or adequate substitution for daily exercise. Young athletes must get a comprehensive experience of exercise including mobility, flexibility, conditioning, strength, power, coordination and speed and agility.
- Lack of perception – Due to many of the factors I’ve already mentioned, young athletes today don’t know how to self-regulate and have no idea how hard they’re actually working. They are either not working hard enough to elicit a training affect or too hard which keeps them in a constant state of recovery.
Remedy: In the absence of self-governing free play, young athletes need the opportunity to assess their relative rate of perceived exertion with the guidance of a qualified Coach.
- No Off Season – Warranting a completely separate article on what to actually do in the off season, this may be the biggest culprit I see today. With no chance for full mental and physical recover, repetitive motion and a more demanding schedule than that of a professional athlete…this is a recipe for disaster.
Remedy: Unfortunately, this is not going to change, at least not in the foreseeable future. Choose your outlets for the game wisely. Not all clubs are created equal and if they say they are focused on complete player development…make them prove it. Outside of that, take time when you need to, and as much time as you need. Play multiple sports (one sport per season) for as long as possible.
This list is not exhaustive or exhausting but now that we’re half way through this is a great time for Erica to take the podium. All yours Erica!
Thank you, Dave, for the thorough, yet succinct intro.
And yes, we’re being more brief than usual, as Dave and I tend to get verbose and excited with these collaborations.
So without further ado, I’m going to dive right in. Here are my reasons why youth athletes get injured:
- Lack of proper strength and conditioning – It is flabbergasting that a tremendous amount of youth athletes don’t see a strength and conditioning coach. Soccer is a rough sport that calls for resilient and durable players to handle cutting, sprinting, shielding, battling and so much more.
Remedy: Get a strength coach now. If you care about the health of your kids and their long-term development, you best hire a professional.
- Fear of speaking up to a coach – Even if a kid if suffering a minor tweak, they’re too afraid to speak up to their coach because they fear appearing “weak” or “soft.” Minor injuries and soreness have their way of increasing the chances of something far worse.
Remedy: Don’t wait. Speak up to the coach and be fully transparent. An example of what you can say: “Coach, I hurt ‘xyz’ and it is impacting my ability to play at my best and work hard in your trainings. I need a break so I can come back stronger and help the team.”
- Too much skills training – I know Dave already mentioned this one, but screw it. Let me hammer this home: too much skills training becomes problematic when it takes away from a kid’s time for a strength and conditioning coach. And newsflash: exercise science shows that skills training doesn’t make a muscle stronger, nor does it make a kid able to run at high speeds or change direction safely.
Remedy: Make time for strength and conditioning, even if this means cutting back on the extra skills lessons. Worst case, practice skills on your own time.
- Improper warm up – The good old jogging a lap around the field, followed by static stretching is a classic example of what not to do. If a kid is not prepared for that first jump, sprint, or ballistic movement in a game, their chance of tweaking a muscle, blowing out a knee, or rolling an ankle increases.
Remedy – Be thoughtful with warm ups. Are you warming up with movements that mimic actions of the game? Are you performing dynamic stretches? Are you sprinting for a few reps at maximum speed to prepare for that first diagonal run? FIFA 11+ warm-up is an excellent start.
- Not enough maximal speed training – Hamstring strains run rampant in soccer nowadays. I blame lack of maximal speed training covering over 40 yards when players hit top speed.
Remedy – Expose players to high velocities, especially if you’re doing small-sided games at practice that don’t elicit maximal speed sprinting. The best time to do these is 3-4 days before match day, or 1-2x a week during the off-season.
- Not enough maximal conditioning training – Sometimes, the strongest players get injured. And this happens because they didn’t condition alongside their off-season program. Most injuries in soccer occur in the second half when soccer players are unable to sustain speed endurance, and fatigue sets in and causes whacky movement patterns.
Remedy – Condition players at a higher intensity than the game in an anaerobic fashion. And stop doing 2-mile jogs.
- Two sports in same season – I’m all for a diverse menu of sports to develop athleticism and build motor skills. But: two sports in the same season is an overuse recipe for disaster – physically, mentally, and socially.
Remedy – Play sports in different seasons, or play the secondary sport for fun (rec league or as pick-up). Also, ensure you’re getting 1-2 days of full rest, recovery and time with friends and loved ones.
- No load monitoring or communication – Without load monitoring, the best athletes are susceptible to injury. Take one of my strongest girls, for example: got injured during her Spring season because her coach was running her team the day after a tough match.
Remedy – Have common sense and don’t run players into the ground after games, especially starters and key players who play a lot of minutes. Always communicate on who is sore, who could up the ante that week, and who could use some extra mobility work.
- In-season strength doesn’t progress – The problem with in-season programs is athletes are babied to the point they don’t get stronger, faster or more agile. Or worse yet, kids stop strength training altogether during the season and become weaker than before they started.Remedy – Strength train year-round. And if you hire a professional who knows how to tweak, load monitor and manage workouts based on what the heck is going on, you’re in wonderful hands and will continue to progress during this time.Shoutout to my online athletes who openly communicate with me during the season, so I can work my magic and program the workouts that week.
20. Lack of sleep – I do care how strong an athlete is as far as reducing injury, but at the same token, if they aren’t getting sleep, they’re walking through murky waters, and the strength benefits aren’t as powerful. Lack of sleep disrupts the nervous system and can cause delayed, awkward, and unwanted actions in the game that can lead to injury.
Remedy – Get quality sleep, meaning, 6-8 hours of nonstop, baby sleep. Shut your phone off an hour before bed, listen to calming music, read a book, make your room as dark as possible. Get off Instagram and Tik Tok.
There it is unpacked and out in the open. There are no shortcuts to greatness and far too often those shortcuts end up taking young athletes much longer to achieve success now and in the future.