Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are becoming increasingly common leading doctors who work with schools and youth sports organizations to encourage training to reduce the risk of ACL tears in young athletes.
When an athlete quickly changes direction, suddenly stop, or land on their leg incorrectly, an ACL injury can occur. Sports like basketball, soccer, football, lacrosse, and gymnastics are among the sports that are most commonly experiencing ACL injuries.
An ACL injury is the tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament and many people who experience them often hear a “pop” in the knee when it happens. Treatment will depend on the severity of the ACL tear and may include rest and rehabilitation exercises to help the athlete regain strength and stability. In cases where the torn ligament needs to be replaced, surgery is required.
A clinical report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics says that neuromuscular training programs that strengthen leg muscles, improve stability and teach people how to move safely should be encouraged.
Programs that have included strength training have shown to reduce the rates of ACL injuries successfully. The training programs have included jump training and plyometric and tailored sessions for individual athletes.
To prevent ACL injuries and the possibility of ACL surgery, young athletes need to be taught to move properly. Commonly, coaches will only teach game-play mechanics and specific skills and strategies. However, they fail to take the time to teach them how to move properly. The coaches should teach basics such as the mechanics of squatting, running, and landing.
Most sports involve sprinting, sharp direction changes, hard deceleration, and jumping and these are exactly what cause ACL tears. Injury prevention programs focus on flexibility, balance, agility, safe jumping, and landing, and strength training focused on the core, hips, and legs.
Here are guidelines and exercises that can be done alone or with the team to help prevent and ACL injury:
Adequate strength in the hips and thighs is crucial to preventing ACL injuries. Exercises that build strength include squats and lunges. Remember to practice proper technique.
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart.
- Sit back.
- Bend from your hips and knees.
- Stick your buttocks out with your chest high.
- Keep your knees behind your toes.
- Keep your knees and feet facing straight ahead as you squat. Don’t let your knee turn inward.
- Stand upright, feet together
- Take a controlled step forward with your right leg, lowering your hips toward the floor by bending both knees to 90-degree angles. The back knee should point toward but not touch the ground, and your front knee should be directly over the ankle.
- Press your right heel into the ground, and push off with your left foot to bring your left leg forward, stepping with control into a lunge on the other side.
Agility-Changing Direction drills
- Run to a line or point on the field or court
- Plant your outside foot without letting your knee collapse inward to change direction.
- Move in patterns that take you front to back, side to side and diagonally.
- Pick up the pace and maintain proper technique – hips over knees over ankles
Jump and Land Safely
Jump straight upward. Land with your feet and knees pointing straight ahead. Don’t let your knees knock. Bend your knees gently each time you land. As you practice jumping and landing safely, it starts to feel second nature.
Practice these jumps with a teammate. Whether you are jumping to catch a ball or jumping over a line on field or court, be mindful of your landing.
Remember, through strengthening and proper technique, ACL injuries are preventable. Coaches should prepare their young athletes for the possibility of them by teaching them both the mechanics of the sport and how to avoid injury.
Quite often, kids develop their love for sports from their parents. Maybe mom played in high school or dad plays basketball every weekend. It’s natural for a parent to want their child to love the same sports they do and may even sign them up for the program.
However, there may be more to discovering what the right sport for your child is than what you as a parent love. Consider that your child may have others interests or that they want to join their friends in a sport.
Choosing the Right Sport for Your Child
In discovering the right sport for your child, there may be some trial and error. And that’s fine. Here is a quick guideline:
Exposure to Variety
By introducing your child to a variety of sports, you’ll be able to see which sparks their interest. You can start by having them watch sports on TV. Ask your child what they like or dislike. Watch out for signs of enthusiasm.
Team or Individual Sport?
Maybe your child prefers a sports like tennis, swimming, or golf where they may be part of a team, but the focus will be on their individual skill. Or they may want to participate in team sports like basketball, football, or baseball. Their preference for individual or team sports makes a huge difference in the sports to choose from.
Match the Sport to Your Child
While you shouldn’t discourage your child from playing a sport that they have shown interest in because their body type doesn’t match the sport, you can still help them decide so they can have the best possible experience.
Tall kids tend to do well in basketball while kids who are shorter and stocky are better suited for football. Consider if your child’s interest and ability match the sport’s level of intensity and competitiveness.
Choosing the Right Program
Once your child is decided on a sport, it is natural as a parent to want to register them to a good program. You’ll want to find a program whose philosophy you agree with. Here are things to consider:
Does the program develop fair play, teamwork, and sportsmanship?
Is communication between coaches, parents, officials, and participants encouraged?
Are the procedures in choosing coaches and officials clearly outlined?
Have coaches and officials been trained appropriately?
What is the team selection process? Based on age, size, skill and emotional development?
Does the program ensure that the young athletes are in a safe and hygienic facility?
Do they provide the necessary safety equipment?
Are first-aid supplies, emergency medical forms, and personnel available and accessible during practices and games?
Most importantly, is the program’s mission for kids to have fun?
In the past years, the participation by girls in sports has increased at all levels – youth, high school, college, professional, and Olympic.
The acceptance of female athleticism by society seems to be on the rise. However, it’s been observed across many youth leagues that the rate at which girls drop out is significantly high compared to boys especially when they hit puberty.
Catherine Sabiston, Associate Professor of the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education, followed more than 300 girls between 14 and 18 years old to explore the relation between their involvement in sports and their body-related emotions. Did how they felt about their appearances have a positive or adverse effect on their likelihood to enroll in sports or engage in physical activity?
Sabiston’s study covered two seasons, and during just the first phase of her study, 6% of the girls dropped out.
“Self-consciousness related to the body is one of the key reasons why girls drop out of sport during adolescence as their bodies are changing,” Sabiston explains. “It starts as early as 10. We need to help more at that level, as girls are going through body transitions.”
Girls at this age group have a tendency to compare their bodies with their peers leading to negative emotions that influenced their confidence in their abilities. This distorted perception lead to poor performance and feeling anxious about sports in general.
At this age, girls are most sensitive about their weight and appearance and yet choose to leave the activity that guarantees will keep their bodies in peak condition and at the ideal weight. It has been observed that beyond girls’ insecurities over their bodies, the following also played factors in why they were more likely to drop out of sports:
Society leads them to believe that sports are unfeminine
Despite the significant shift in mentality by society when it comes to women in sports, the cultural view is still that sports are masculine. And most girls don’t want to be associated with anything that makes them appear less feminine because this is the age where girls and boys alike start enjoying the attention of the opposite sex. Naturally, girls don’t want boys to see them participating in an activity that makes them appear unfeminine or unattractive.
Girls are more inclined towards cooperation than competition
Girls going through puberty are experiencing a surge in estrogen levels. This leads girls to shift towards relationships and to stay connected. Sports, on the other hand, is about competition and because girls are keen on meaningful connections, they start to move away from struggles and rivalries particularly ones that are on the physical level.
The lack of positive female athlete role models
In professional sports, there are few female athletes for young girls to idolize. The reality is that the focus is still on male athletes as the most popular sports are still dominated by males. Even with the existence of female leagues, there is much less attention and exposure. Because of this, young girls start to pull away from sports by their teens when they start to see less of a future in it.
And because only 15% of youth coaches are women, there are simply not enough female authority figures in sports to keep young girls inspired and motivated towards a long-term relationship with sports.
A coach is a teacher of the fundamentals of the game and the skills necessary to play a sport. They help their athletes build character, develop camaraderie, and promote good sportsmanship. The goal of a youth coach is to motivate kids and recognize the sport as a fun physical activity and to teach them the value of healthy competition.
As a coach, your job is to provide an atmosphere where each kid has the opportunity to realize their athletic potential and improve their skills all while having fun in competition. Ultimately, a child’s decision to continue the sport often depends on their experiences during their early years of training and playing.
But what if you are coaching the team that your child play on? Being a parent coach can be a wonderful experience for both you and your kid. You’ll get to spend more time together, and your bond will strengthen.
However, if not done right, being a parent coach can become unpleasant for your child. They may feel that you are an awesome parent but too hard on them as a coach. They may even be embarrassed by the noticeable amount of attention that you spend on developing their skills while failing to focus on the other team members.
If you decided to play both roles, be mindful and remember the following:
Be a Positive Role Model
Your team will look to you to determine what approach and attitude are appropriate on the field and in life. Remember to be the example for the following:
Don’t Treat the Opponents as Enemies
The opponents should be hated nor destroyed. Worthy opponents make for healthy competition. Your young athletes will learn the value of good sportsmanship when the opponents aren’t demonized but rather respected for their good performances and applauded for their efforts.
Don’t Blame the Officials
Blaming the referees or umpires for errors in judgment or just sheer bad luck only shows poor sportsmanship. Athletes need to learn to accept their failures and learn from them rather than pass the blame or make excuses.
Enjoy the Experience
As a coach, your main goal is the support the individual improvement of your players and inspire enjoyment in the sports experience for your team. Putting too much pressure on them can lead to the game turning sour for the athlete, leading them to quit or burn out.
Don’t Let Your Roles as a Parent and Coach Conflict
Remember, on the field you are the coach, and at home, you are “Mom” or “Dad.” It is easy to blur the two particularly when your kid is on your team. Successful parent coaches go as far as having their children call them “coach” during practice and at games.
Distinguish between the roles when it is relevant. Don’t treat your child as you would at home when you are at practice or during a game. Likewise, don’t treat your child like your athlete at home.
Treat all your players the same. Avoid the impression of favoritism by showering special attention towards your child. As a parent, it is natural to want to see your kid succeed and improve. However, as a coach, it is your job to ensure that all your players get equal attention and guidance. Find a good balance that doesn’t mean focusing too much on your child and ignoring them entirely. Don’t go to the lengths of being extra hard on your child to prove that there is no favoritism either.
Athletes playing at every level feel a bit anxious before a big game.
Experiencing pre-game hitters is natural. But what happens when it becomes more than that and the anxiety is so bad that it keeps them from playing at their peak or prohibits them from playing entirely?
There are a number of reasons why kids could suffer from pregame stress. They might worry about the outcome especially if they feel great pressure to win. They may feel unprepared to compete. They may feel stressed about the opponents and the level of competition they are about to encounter.
Athletes who struggle with pregame anxiety may feel physically tired before the competition. The stress can cause muscles to tighten. Stress can cause emotional strain and physical changes that will hurt performance. Athletes will physically feel tense and unable to perform. Pregame anxiety involves symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches. They may even have trouble sleeping, feel extreme fatigue, or suffer from depression.
As a parent or coach, you can help your young athlete cope with sports performance anxiety by recognizing the symptoms. Help your child conquer sports performance anxiety by preparing them mentally for the event. It’s important to help kids understand what anxiety is and that it is not uncommon.
Many children who suffer from pregame stress often have no issues during practice, and the anxiety only surfaces before big games where they feel the intensified pressure to win. Helping your athlete overcome pregame anxiety can be approached many ways. Studies have shown that the following strategies can be implemented for athletes at every level and any age:
Relaxation training involves techniques like listening to music. Many coaches have found that playing music pregame can have an energizing effect that will motivate and get the team pumped for the game.
However, music just before the competition can have an equally positive impact on a child that is struggling with anxiety particularly if it is calming and relaxing music.
Guide the young athlete to focus on the task at hand rather than the outcome. Encourage them to not dwell on negative thoughts. You may even want them to talk about something not related to the game. Have them talk about school or their hobbies outside of the sport. Try to put them in a relaxed state of mind. By promoting tranquil thoughts, their blood pressure, heart, and breathing rates are lowered.
Meditation and deep breathing can help ease the mind. Because anxiety can cause numbness, dizziness, shortness of breath, controlled breathing can relieve the athlete of these symptoms and put them in a peaceful state of mind.
Just before the game, have the athlete take slow controlled breaths through their nose. Breathe out through pursed lips. Have them take 3 to 10 deep breaths and ask them how they feel at the end of the session.
As their parent or coach, you may not have control over the external factors that lead children to suffer from sports performance anxiety. However, you do have the ability to support them and remind them how much they love the sport and why they play the game.