Welcome to my TEDTalk.
I’ve known that I wanted to write this article for quite some time, but I wasn’t sure how to formulate it.
Should it be long? Should it be discreet, very precise? Should I share stories and examples? Should it be a monster guidebook or just a check-list?
I’ve settled on the basic, free version (expect to get a pop-up for your “Premium 30-Day Trial, Then Just $6.99/month!” anytime now).
If you’re involved in any of the sport industry or sport scientist social media shitstorm, I’m sure you’ve experienced the discussions on injury prevention. There are over 1000 different angles to choose from, so many perspectives and opinions and curse words and bad metaphors to scratch your head over. It’s actually more ridiculous and unrealistic some days than the Game of Thrones fandom speculating over Season 8, Episode 6.
At the end of the day, injury prevention is basic.
We are in the business of building and managing strong, fast, resilient athletes and supporting them to perform at their highest potential for as long as possible.
And, in my experience and coaching philosophy, PREVENTION = STOPPING injuries before they can even form or take place, not just limiting them when the first signs show up.
Therefore, my Basics of Injury Prevention are really just that: basics.
These are staples in our program, especially for our field athletes (soccer players), and we deal with a lot less “first signs of injury” (pain/strain) and “injury” since implementing these systems across all our athletes when possible.
Twice a week, our athletes fill out a 10-question scale by rating their agreement/level from 0 to 10. We ask about their pain, soreness, amount of sleep, fatigue, quality of sleep, food intake/nutrition, stress level, and a few more. This gives us a baseline at the start of their week and a measure at the end of it.
(Yes, originally we asked them to do it every day and quickly realized that, for 80% of our players, even 20 seconds of time was unreasonable to ask for.)
Besides this, myself and all of my coaches are in regular contact with our athletes, asking for their week overviews, their schedules, external stress, and any other feedback they may have.
We monitor their inputs as much as we can (training stimuli, controllable/changeable factors like sleep/food/stress), and adjust them as need according to their outputs (pain/fatigue/stress/etc).
Doing this consistently and across time, we learn what to expect from certain athletes (i.e. this athlete doesn’t handle high volume well, but another one does well with light training on Matchday+1) and from certain cycles (i.e. in Pre-Season, Week 3, the athletes are exhausted and need to be pulled back on Week 4).
From my time with clubs, schools, and federations, we often heard that “athlete monitoring technology is too expensive” and it’s not. It just takes effort, and it is so fuckin’ worth it!
Know what your athletes are taking in (inputs = training, games, stress, etc.) and what that’s impacting (outputs = pain, stress, extra soreness, fatigue, mood, mental distress, etc.).
Adjust where and what you can.
At the end of the day, we want minimum input for maximum output.
Sport is literally about absorbing and producing force.
If an athlete is weak, imbalanced, and unable to support him/herself physically in his/her sport, how can s/he be resilient? That’s a strong case for injury.
A basic example of this is, in my experience, soccer players. They tend to be extremely anterior/front-side dominant, due to spending most of their time running and jumping. The rate of hamstring and groin strains in soccer is ridiculous, and that’s before we talk about knee injury.
When they come to me, they go directly into the program called Fix Your Shit, where they get the Posterior Chain Treatment, along with some Lateral Learning and Upper Body Demolition, only followed by a heavy dose of Brace With Grace.
All-in-all, we use a total of about 15 exercises in the gym with our soccer players, addressing all of these issues in their entire body while keeping their sport-specific demands in mind.
Whew! They leave stronger, more balanced, more resilient, and able to calm down their nervous systems to recover.
Amazing what implementing the absolute basics can do.
(Hold for gasps and laugh track…)
Okay, so you monitor load and you do strength training.
The next thing you can implement is biomechanics.
How is their gait? How’s their sprint stride? What does their position look like in the drive phase/acceleration? Do they have solid lumbo-pelvic control? Are they lacking mobility anywhere severely?
Most of these issues can be picked up on and addressed in strength or speed training sessions. It requires minimum extra work, little time, and virtually no extra cost.
(Somehow those of us self-funded coaches have been able to pull it off and still pay rent, so your 10,000€ Force Plate and sprint analysis software can fight me right now!)
If you have time to get micro with an athlete, do it.
Our athletes get 1-3 small, simple and custom exercises to do every morning before they start their day, specifically to address their own deficits.
That’s it… that’s “injury prevention”.
Technical Skills Training
I’m not a skills coach, so I always refer my athletes to someone who knows technical skill better than I do, when needed.
For example, goalkeepers tend to have shoulder issues. Teaching them how to land, on top of everything else we already addressed, can help limit that risk or severity even more.
Address small stuff when you’re qualified to, when it’s necessary, and when there’s time.
That’s it. That’s the checklist.
In my experience with nearly 300 individual athletes now, it’s a macro + micro perspective.
BUT it’s not expensive. It’s not time-consuming. It’s not senseless. It’s not ego-stroking.
It’s the minimum high quality input for the maximum high quality output.
Get the basics done well, zoom in when you can.
Leave the rocket science to Twitter and do your best job!