Athlete safety has never been more prominent in sports than it is now. Some NFL players are considering early retirement to preserve their bodies, NBA teams routinely rest their stars to prevent wear and tear, and soccer influencers are learning more about the impact headers have on concussions.
While professional and college teams garner most of the conversation, these topics certainly affect high school athletes as well. Younger players are still developing physically and haven’t reached their peaks, leaving their bodies vulnerable to additional punishment.
Coaches and athletic directors want to keep their players safe at all costs, for both the benefit of the individual and the team, but how can you protect athletes across your program? Here are a few ideas to keep your athletes healthy and in the game.
Every time an athlete steps on the court, field or rink, they’re putting their body at risk. Sports involve movement and collisions the body isn’t naturally trained for, and athletics sometimes push the limits.
You can mitigate risk by properly preparing athletes, starting with offseason training. The more engaged the body is year-round, the less shock it will receive when the season begins. Through offseason conditioning and weight lifting, athletes train their bodies to handle the grind of the season.
Preparation goes beyond what occurs during play or in the weight room. What athletes eat and drink greatly impacts their performance. The better fuel you put in a car’s engine, the better it will perform. Make sure your cafeteria offers healthy options and consider supplying protein shakes or fruit after practices. If players constantly fill up on pizza, hot dogs and soda, their play will suffer and their defenses will be vulnerable.
Sleep also plays a huge factor in health. The body needs time to recharge and heal, and if players are routinely getting seven or eight hours a night, they will be better prepared for competition and less susceptible to injury.
None of these ideas are exactly revolutionary, but do high school athletes know about them? Think back to your own teenage years—were you concerned about how much water you drank or how much sleep you got? Most high schoolers simply don’t know how important these factors are, so educate them. Hold sessions before each season and stress the importance of healthy diets and getting rest. You can’t force them to go to bed early or take the cheeseburger out of their hand, but you can help them realize how they can help themselves.
No matter how much you prepare the body for action, sports require a number of collisions, falls, twists and turns—wear and tear is inevitable. Even if an athlete avoids major injury, each practice and game puts a few more miles on his or her odometer.
One way to limit erosion is limiting physical reps and increasing mental ones, an idea many high school teams are already embracing. The Pennfield High School (N.Y.) football team is a prime example. Jay Johnson, the head coach and former member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, saw NFL teams using more video to cut down on collisions without affecting performance.
Athletes build muscle memory from watching themselves and others perform. When they subsequently take the field or court, they’re more likely to use proper technique, which cuts down on senseless injuries.
“The most important thing for me is, with Hudl I don’t have to get a kid to pound his head into another kid 80 times to get 80 reps,” Johnson said. “I can have them do it 10-20 times, and then they can watch it and create muscle memory through that. With all the research about the impact with the head and neck and spine, it reduces a ton of that. It reduces the hits and creates muscle memory.”
There is no surefire way to prevent injuries. Accidents will unfortunately always be a part of sports. But coaches and athletic directors can help lessen the chances by educating their athletes, keeping them active in the offseason, supplying them with the finest equipment, and reducing the blows their bodies take. The less injuries your athletes sustain, the happier and healthier they will be—and the more success your teams will have.