I want to start this off by sharing a quote from an athlete I once worked with.
“I’d never had an injury before I got here. I don’t know what it is, don’t know what happened to me. Maybe one thing led to another. Honestly, I have no clue. Achilles is one of those deals where it just happens. What are you supposed to do about that? I did everything I could to stay healthy. The year before, my groin, I did everything I could.
"I think about it all the time. What else could you have done?”
This athlete found himself coming back from a season ending injury many hard working athletes at higher levels are familiar with. He put in rehab time, dedicated his off-season to getting back to full strength and hit the pre-season training hard...only to suffer another season ending injury.
Unable to play consecutive complete seasons, an athlete usually finds themselves with a label far from what their talents should indicate. Injury prone.
I call bullshit.
The term ‘injury prone’ implies that there is nothing that can be done to intervene. No matter the assessment, approach or application of training, the athlete is still going to suffer some form of injury. If the athlete is going to get injured anyways, why have them wasting a scholarship or a roster spot?
Coaches labeling players ‘injury prone’ is a jab at the strength and conditioning coach and their program, and from what I have observed, I agree.
Square Peg, Round Hole
Undervalued by many, and devalued by many more. This profession has many avenues and specialties. Each coach involved gravitates towards the respect they enjoy the most and learns as much as they can through education and practice about this specialty. This training passion is soon applied to their athletes, no matter what their athletes are training for. Olympic lifters give their athletes Olympic lifting. Power lifters give their athletes power lifts. Well conditioned coaches give their athletes a lot of conditioning.
The problem with this lies when a strength coach gets an athlete that does not fit into their way of doing things. The athlete appears unathletic in respects to the expectations of their strength coach, no matter how talented a player they may be. An unfortunate situation for this athlete. Being in this training environment does not prepare them for the demands of the sport or their individual needs, especially coming back from a previous injury. They may not reach their full potential, be hurt in this situation, or get hurt at some point in-season due to lack of correct preparation.
There is another situation an athlete coming off an injury season may face, excelling in training. The athlete crushes every training day, no matter what is handed to them. The program is perfect fit for their strengths and they are rarely challenged athletically. While they are working extremely hard and doing all they are asked, they are strictly staying in their wheelhouse. I’ve witnessed many of these athletes. While the accessory work to attack their limiting factors or specific needs is written into the program, they are not attacking them with the purpose and drive of what comes so easily to them.
I fear for these athletes.
“Sharp pencils do not translate into sharp performance.”
It’s delicate balance: Athletes must train hard to come back from season ending injuries and the weightroom can be used as a tool to compare and contrast where they were as an athlete before suffering the setback. But at what stage does this comparison or comparison to another athlete become a limiting factor in itself? Success in the weightroom is often time an illusion that an athlete is ready stresses and forces of their game.
Just because a number is high or is the same as when they were healthy, does not mean their body is prepared. You hate to see guys like Robert Griffin III consistently go down with non-contact injuries, but there is no need to label him ‘injury prone’. I would like to see what approach the strength and conditioning coaches have taken in the past and what they will apply to get him back onto the field.
The Functional Movement Screening is a test used by many strength and conditioning professionals that has been a focus of many studies to determine its validity as a predictor of non-contact injuries. The prudence of these studies and many coach’s use of this test should be questioned.
“This research study demonstrated that the FMS shows a true potential to work as an effective and efficient predictive tool for identifying lower extremity injury in division one collegiate female athletics.”- Brown, 2011.
Many of the studies put athletes through the screening, identify poor scores or limiting factors and then let the athletes proceed through their season. If the athlete then gets hurt, their poor score is validated and the FMS becomes viewed as a more effective eval tool. Prudent?
The effectiveness of this screening is also limited by its scale-ability. While it may be effective in identifying limiting factors, what if a coach misses one of these on a team of 30+ athletes? Is there a better way to not only evaluate, but also apply corrective exercises? Absolutely. Discussed in depth at the CrossFit Football Coach’s course and many of our articles on this blog.
A strength and conditioning coach not only must identify the demands required of their athletes, but also do the research on the most common injuries for each sport. Expanding the vision of the athlete past numbers or solely on the state of the injury is a challenge for not only the strength coach, but also the sport coach. See the athlete as a whole and identify what else may be limiting their performance and could lead to an injury somewhere else.
I’ve been fortunate in my journey to work with many experienced and inspirational strength and conditioning coaches, each one providing insight based off their experience. Jeff Madden’s messages were always clear, especially, “A strength and conditioning coach is there to take an athlete where they cannot take themselves.”
Many of Raph’s lessons circled around the conclusion that anyone can make someone faster or stronger. A strength coach is doing a disservice not identifying what an athlete can’t do, because that’s what’s going to prevent them from playing.
One of Welbourn’s greatest points needs to be applied to any coach who takes on an athlete labeled as ‘injury prone’. From, 42 Things I’ve Learned: Number 3. Be a performance whore.- “Your only mark for progress should be performance and success. Don’t get caught up in dogma, realize all that matters is performance.”
These points present an opportunity for the strength and conditioning coach to intervene, and make this label of ‘injury prone’ go away. But the coach must take an honest assessment and evaluation to identify what exactly this athlete needs to prepare for the upcoming season. We've been fortunate to bring some experienced strength coaches onto Power Athlete radio like Tom Kanavy and Mark Watts. Gems from Tom, Mark and those above can be highly effective in guiding a coach dealing with an ‘injury prone’ athlete.
Brown, Matthew T., "The ability of the functional movement screen in predicting injury rates in Division 1 female athletes" (2011). Theses and Dissertations. Paper 541.
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Former collegiate lacrosse defensive midfielder, 4-year letter winner and 3-year team captain. Coached strength and conditioning collegiately with Georgetown University football, Men's and Women's lacrosse and Women's Crew, as well with the University of Texas at Austin's football program. Apprenticed under Raphael Ruiz of 1-FortyFour-1 studying proper implementation of science based, performance driven training systems. Head coached CrossFit Dupont's program for two years in Washington D.C. Received a Master's in Health Promotion Management from Marymount University in 2010, and has been a coach for Power Athlete since October, 2012.
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