By Mackie Shilstone
Fall is here and another prep football season has begun. Football is the most glamorous and popular high school sport, and the conditioning these young athletes endure puts them in peak physical shape. It enables them to develop their muscles and formulate good health habits at an early age. However, football is also the sport most prone to injuries.
The line of scrimmage is a battlefield on every down. Because it requires applied force to stop an opponent, football players are susceptible to injury anywhere on their bodies, despite the use of helmets, padding and other protective gear. The physical act of tackling a 200+ pound, moving opponent makes the tackler vulnerable to many types of injuries and the player carrying the ball can be equally vulnerable if he falls the wrong way or takes a vicious hit.
Injuries in football are inevitable byproducts of the game. Additional hazards can include heat exhaustion and misuse of nutritional supplements. While all of these possible mishaps can't be totally prevented, there are steps that can be taken to minimize the risks, starting with greater awareness on the part of the parents and the coaches. Coaches shoulder primary responsibility for preparing these young men for the rigors of the game. In many instances, the coach is the 'sideline doc.' Unfortunately, some of them are not properly trained in conditioning methods. Nor do many of them have an understanding of basic first aid techniques.
Weight training, under proper supervisory conditions, should enable players to better withstand the physical punishment of football. All athletes should prepare for games and practice with an adequate warmup and stretching program. Since injuries can occur when muscles are taken past their limits before being properly stretched out, these injuries can lead to chronic problems.
To avoid dehydration, players should slowly acclimate themselves to the heat. Coaches need to remain alert to the hydration levels of their players and keep them supplied with water or other replacement fluids every 15-20 minutes. Players should be weighed before and after every practice. Through excessive perspiration, players can be expected to lose a few pounds. However, if the weight loss showing at the end of the workout is more than 3% of the player's starting weight, he should not be allowed back on the field until he has re-established his previous weight. Finally, it is important to promote a cool-down process after practice and games to avoid muscles spasms.
Football injuries range from minor contusions to limb fractures and concussions. All of them need to be taken seriously by the coaches and the players and their parents. Playing injured invites the risk of greater injury. Learning how to tackle an opponent in the way that is least injurious to both players is one of the main keys to safety. There are videotapes available that demonstrate the proper tackling techniques and they should be required viewing by both coaches and players.
Parents play a key role in the safety and well being of their youngsters. They should not push them beyond their physical limits or encourage them to play hurt. Parents should monitor which supplements their kids are taking, and consult with a sports nutritionist or sports medical specialist if they have concerns.
My personal advice, after 25 years of performance enhancement training at the pro, college and high school levels, is that you may not get a second chance to prevent a season-ending injury or worse for your child. Learn what it takes, both physically and mentally, to play the game and prepare accordingly, starting with a comprehensive musculoskeletal evaluation.