Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Marilou Johanek


A focus on training to give girl athletes a sporting chance


Marilou Johanek.

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The TV broadcast of a European Premier League soccer game showed two players bonking heads in quest of the ball. The sports announcer called it a coconut crash.

Both players were bleeding. A trainer applied a glob of salve to the back of one player’s head. The player returned to action.

The second player, lying prone on the field, wiped blood from his forehead as crews rushed to assess his condition. He ambled to the sidelines with support.

The soccer injury happened as I perused the sports section of the newspaper, which was packed with updates of injuries to professional athletes. So what else is new?

As one writer put it, injuries are as much a part of football as the Gatorade shower. Knee, hip, leg, ankle, and hamstring mishaps, concussions, and assorted body ailments keep stars in the National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and other professional sports leagues on the bench.

It’s unsettling to see pro athletes, from running backs in football to forwards in soccer, grimacing in pain from fractures, torn ligaments, and serious sprains. But it’s almost more jarring to see kids go down during rough play.

The physical abuse endured by middle and high-school athletes on the field or the court can astonish first-time observers. It is always worrisome for parents to watch flying elbows, slide tackles, collisions, and body slams.

With school back in session, the games are on. Already some players will miss part or all of the upcoming football, soccer, and volleyball seasons. They are sidelined with preseason scrimmage injuries.

They start the year with crutches, slings, casts, and pain. Two injured players on my daughter’s varsity soccer team had to be carried off the field during their last contest.

She was one of them. Both injuries involved contact with other players. Some of that is inadvertent during aggressive play.

But some contact injury is purposeful. Players push, shove, and trip with impunity until — or unless — the referee calls a personal foul.

Dan Schultz sees plenty of contact injuries among high school athletes. The 32-year-old athletic trainer from Sandusky attends high school competitions that have become increasingly intense. Kids run full force into kids.

He treats the bumps and bruises and worse. “Everyone is familiar with the ACLs,” Mr. Schultz told me, referring to ligament tears and ruptures in knees.

“A lot of girls seem to get those kind of noncontact injuries,” he added. They happen when players make abrupt changes in movement, “like cutting to change direction or making sudden stops when running fast.”

“Girls are playing sports just as much as guys, but the strength-training component of it isn’t emphasized as much,” he said. Such training would enable girls to get muscle strength to withstand injury. “Deficits [lack of strength] in their hips and core control affects their ACL [anterior cruciate ligament], because they don’t land with their knee in line with where it should be.”

Concussions are another growing concern. “They’ve always been around, but they’re getting a lot more press now with new NFL rules,” Mr. Schultz said.

Today, he gives nearly all high school athletes, not just football players, a baseline screening for concussions before the season to compare with possible head injuries later.

Diagnosing concussions is tricky. “Every concussion is different, the symptoms are different, the way players feel and respond afterward is different,” Mr. Schultz said.

But the pattern of hip, knee, and ankle injuries is more of the same. “A lot of kids are playing two and three sports now, some at the same time, some year round, doing too much, and their bodies don’t get a break,” Mr. Schultz said.

“Other kids just specialize in one sport and don’t cross-train enough,” he said. “Bottom line is, kids aren’t using their bodies right, working on structural stuff. They go from sitting around playing video games or being on a computer all day” to extreme physical exertion, he said.

It takes more than playing sports and doing drills to stay in shape and prevent injuries. Ask the pros on the injury list.

Mr. Schultz suggests that parents “make sure their kids take time to rest, play a range of sports, and seek extra strength training, if they’re not getting it in school.”

A professional sports career doesn’t have to be in the cards for student-athletes. Keeping them healthy should be.

Contact Blade columnist Marilou Johanek at:

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