Fort Worth, Texas,
10:42 AM

Is your child ready for football?

A Cook Children's physical therapist specialist offers 5 tips to avoid injury

Most young athletes know the importance of preparing for the upcoming football season and have been preparing this summer with weight-training and conditioning programs. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends a balanced fitness program that incorporates aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility. Some athletes work with coaches/trainers and others are highly motivated players going out and challenging themselves. But are they ready?

Strength:  As these athletes push themselves to achieve the lifting goals set by coaches, is their form being supervised by someone trained to observe any breakdowns?  Complex lifts such as cleans, snatch, push-jerks, etc. put enormous strain on the athlete’s muscles, especially when they are younger and still developing, but if their form is poor it also makes them susceptible to back, shoulder, knee and neck injuries. Often the athlete lacks the core strength and stability to provide a solid foundation so that the body can move correctly. Core strengthening should be an integrated part of every strengthening program. Unfortunately, many of our athletes are never taught to control their core in basic sitting and standing postures, but yet we expect that they will somehow find their core while in the weight room or on the field. If you think core strengthening is all about abs, then you are missing the bigger picture.

Conditioning/ nutrition/ hydration: Cardiovascular conditioning is often an area that coaches hit pretty hard in the offseason, and most athletes have been working on some kind of conditioning program. However, the nutrition and hydration components of this area are often over-looked. Understanding how to fuel your body for peak performance is just as important as knowing how to perform the activity. Working with a nutrition/dietitian specialist can give your athlete the tools needed to unlock their full potential.

Flexibility: This is one of the most overlooked areas of a good training program for a football player getting ready for middle or high school ball. There is nothing glorious about stretching. There is also nothing glorious about missing a majority of the season while sitting on the bench due to a pulled hamstring. Flexibility training is about preparing the body to perform.  Dynamic stretching (moving stretches) prepares the body for immediate performance and should be used before any type of physical activity. Static stretching (prolonged holds) help prepare the body for tomorrow’s workout and promotes having the muscle length needed to achieve the greatest power. Use of a foam roller can also help improve flexibility by preparing the muscles for stretching.

Neuromuscular control: Why is it that the pros make it look so easy?  The ability to cut-back, stop-start, and change directions centers on the way an athlete’s brain can control the body. A physical therapist or trained professional can use any number of functional movement assessments to see how the body is moving and recommend corrective exercises and/or cues to improve these patterns. Learning the best patterns means the athlete can generate more power, more quickly, and in more directions. The best movement patterns also keep the body in the best alignment, and less likely to become injured.

Overtraining: The AAOS also recommends avoiding the pressure that is now exerted on many young athletes to over-train. Listen to your body and decrease training time and intensity if pain or discomfort develops.

See a physician if you begin having pain. This will reduce the risk of injury and help avoid “burn-out.”

About the author:

John Stanley, a physical therapist and SPORTS Rehab Clinical Coordinator at Cook Children's. The Cook Children's Sports Performance Orthopedic Rehab Team Specialists (SPORTS) program offers care to children and adolescents with orthopedic or sports-related injuries.

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