Preventing ACL Injuries In Youth Sports Should Be A Top Priority
by Peter Schwartz
There aren’t too many nights/mornings when I’m anchoring updates at CBS Sports Radio that I don’t mention a professional athlete suffering that dirty little three letter word in the sports world that signifies what has become a common injury.
The fact is that ACL or “anterior cruciate ligament” knee injuries or any other soft tissue or lower extremity injuries are not just limited to professional athletes. They’ve become commonplace and even an epidemic in youth sports as well. The big numbers are in teenage female athletes, but it’s a real problem with both genders and kids of all ages.
Research shows that there are a number of reasons why ACL injuries among children are on the rise.
“There could be muscle imbalance, biomechanical differences, or biomechanical movement differences,” according to John Gallucci, Jr., president and CEO of JAG Physical Therapy and a leading expert on sports injuries.
The good news is that while the number of injuries is astronomical, research shows that there are steps that can be taken to prevent them and all it takes is some time and understanding.
There are a number of programs that can help kids avoid ACL injuries and soft tissue injuries in the lower extremity.
The biggest issue is getting some important people on board with the concept.
“We have evidence-based research that shows us that we can decrease incidents of knee injuries, but it has been very difficult to the coaches to buy in, to have their kids do 15 minutes of exercise three or four times a week,” Gallucci said.
The issue is that the coaches are resistant to taking away practice time to implement an exercise program. It’s kind of mind-boggling if you think about it because there is this opportunity to have a mechanism in place to prevent injuries and it’s not being used.
Among the programs that young athletes could be taking part in is the Santa Monica Sports Medicine Foundation prevention program.
This is a program that takes 15-20 minutes and consists of a warm-up, stretching, strengthening, plyometrics (jump training), and sport-specific agilities. Closer to home, JAG Physical Therapy has come up with the “Lower Extremity Strengthening System” or “LESS.” This program has become very popular with parents.
“We combine all the different exercises in a 15-to-18-minute program that works out fantastic and we’re helping decrease injuries,” Gallucci said. “The parents do it at home with their children. They make it a family activity and it decreases the instances of injury.”
So why aren’t more coaches taking advantage of programs like this?
Well, perhaps parents shouldn’t wait around for the coaches and instead take action, themselves. They could be taking these programs to the clubs and the high schools and asking the administrators to implement.
“To have a parent get involved and take the lead on this is 100 percent opportunistic for us to keep the kids out of the emergency room,” Gallucci said. “You have research that shows the opportunity to decrease by close to 50-70 percent the number of ACL injuries. So why wouldn’t you do this?”
That’s a great question. It’s a no-brainer. Parents and coaches need to understand that the kids should be on the field, on the court, and on the ice, instead of lying on a bed in the emergency room.
All it takes is a few minutes a few times a week. The drills in practice can wait if it means avoiding injuries.
New USSF Rules Will Affect Your Child's Soccer Experience
USSF, the governing body of soccer in the United States, has instituted some very important changes to how soccer has been played in the past.
In the past, players having birthdates between August 1 and July 31 of the following year were placed on one team. For example, players with birthdates between August 1, 2004 and July 31, 2005 were considered U11. Starting in fall of 2016, the cutoff for age groups will be the calendar year of January 1 through December 31. This means that a team will no longer consist of mostly players in the same school grade. This puts the team ages in line with what the National teams use. Some tournaments use this calendar year age for determining team ages too.
Another change happening in the spring of 2016 concerns lines on the field. All fields for U9-U10 boys and girls will have a "build-out" line. This line will be four yards outside the goal box. All opposing team members must be behind this line when the goalkeeper has the ball. As soon as the ball leaves the goalkeeper's hands or foot, the ball is in play and the opposing team can proceed as usual. There will be no punting by the goalkeeper in these two age groups.
The third major change to come in fall of 2017 involves the number of players on the field for games; no goalkeeper at U8; the size of the fields and the length of the games. From U6-U12, there will be fewer players on a smaller field for shorter game periods. The aim is to allow for more touches on the ball and they feel this is accomplished best in small-sided games. At U13 and above, the field continues at the same size and the number of players continues at 11 v 11.
The last change involves heading the ball at the ages of U10 and below. Heading will not be taught or allowed in games at these ages. From U11-U13, the proper techniques will be taught in practices but not allowed in games. Only U13 and above can head the ball in game situations.
For more information, go to the US Youth Soccer News page.
FIVE SIGNS OF A NIGHTMARE SPORTS PARENT
Nearly 75 percent of kids who play organized sports quit by age 13. Some find that their skill level hits a plateau and the game is no longer fun. Others simply discover other interests. But too many promising young athletes turn away from sports because their parents become insufferable.
Even professional athletes can behave inappropriately when it comes to their children. David Beckham was recently ejected from a youth soccer field for questioning an official. New Orleans radio host Bobby Hebert, a former NFL quarterback, publicly dressed down LSU football coach Les Miles after Alabama defeated LSU in the BCS title game last month. Hebert was hardly unbiased: His son had recently lost his starting position at LSU.
Mom or dad, so loving and rational at home, can transform into an ogre at a game. A lot of kids internally reach the conclusion that if they quit the sport, maybe they'll get their dad or mom back.
As a sports parent, this is what you don't want to become. This is what you want to avoid:
• Overemphasizing sports at the expense of sportsmanship: The best athletes keep their emotions in check and perform at an even keel, win or lose. Parents demonstrative in showing displeasure during a contest are sending the wrong message. Encouragement is crucial -- especially when things aren’t going well on the field.
• Having different goals than your child: Brown and Miller suggest jotting down a list of what you want for your child during their sport season. Your son or daughter can do the same. Vastly different lists are a red flag. Kids generally want to have fun, enjoy time with their friends, improve their skills and win. Parents who write down “getting a scholarship” or “making the All-Star team” probably need to adjust their goals. “Athletes say their parents believe their role on the team is larger than what the athlete knows it to be,” Miller says.
• Treating your child differently after a loss than a win: Almost all parents love their children the same regardless of the outcome of a game. Yet often their behavior conveys something else. "Many young athletes indicate that conversations with their parents after a game somehow make them feel as if their value as a person was tied to playing time or winning,” Brown says.
• Undermining the coach: Young athletes need a single instructional voice during games. That voice has to be the coach. Kids who listen to their parents yelling instruction from the stands or even glancing at their parents for approval from the field are distracted and can't perform at a peak level.
FIVE SIGNS OF AN IDEAL SPORTS PARENT
Let’s hear it for the parents who do it right. In many respects, it’s easier to be an ideal sports parent than a nightmare. “It takes less effort. Sit back and enjoy.” Here’s what to do:
• Cheer everybody on the team, not just your child: Parents should attend as many games as possible and be supportive, yet allow young athletes to find their own solutions. Don’t feel the need to come to their rescue at every crisis. Continue to make positive comments even when the team is struggling.
• Model appropriate behavior: Contrary to the old saying, children do as you do, not as you say. When a parent projects poise, control and confidence, the young athlete is likely to do the same. And when a parent doesn’t dwell on a tough loss, the young athlete will be enormously appreciative.
• Know what is suitable to discuss with the coach: The mental and physical treatment of your child is absolutely appropriate. So is seeking advice on ways to help your child improve. And if you are concerned about your child’s behavior in the team setting, bring that up with the coach. Taboo topics: Playing time, team strategy, and discussing team members other than your child.
• Know your role: Everyone at a game is either a player, a coach, an official or a spectator. It’s wise to choose only one of those roles at a time. Here’s a clue: If your child seems embarrassed by you, clean up your act.
• Be a good listener and a great encourager: When your child is ready to talk about a game or has a question about the sport, be all ears. Then provide answers while being mindful of avoiding becoming a nightmare sports parent. Above all, be positive. Be your child's biggest fan.
And, of course, don’t be sparing with those magic words: "I love watching you play."
INFORMATION ON PLAYING SOCCER IN COLLEGE
Here are a few links to what a player and/or parent can do to get in front of college coaches. These are not companies that the Woodridge Park District endorses, but rather websites with some pertinent information. No player has to pay for a recruiter. These are just some websites that had some interesting tips for players and parents to read.
Remember, the college you choose should be a good all around fit--not just have a good soccer team. Players go to college to learn first and to play soccer second.
SIMPLE SOCCER RULES
While soccer is played by children all over the world, the rules are not always well-known. Here is a link to a quick overview of the game.
BECOMING A REFEREE
Anyone over the age of 12 can be certified to be a referee. The entry level grade is Grade 8. This is a referee designation--not a school grade. The Illinois Soccer Referee Committee runs clinics periodically for certification and for re-certification. Here is the link for the clinic schedules: ISRC. Check back often because clinics are always added. In Woodridge, we use referees for all our recreational and travel soccer games. Most of the recreational games have two assitant referees in addition to the center referee. Any travel game of U11 or higher also uses two assistant referees or linesmen. Officials are paid to referee soccer games so it is a great way for someone who is interested in soccer to make some extra money.
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