Despite Their Effectiveness, Injury Prevention Programs For High School Athletes Rarely Used

By Dan Peterson, TeamSnap's Sports Science Expert


One of the ongoing challenges for sports science researchers is communicating with coaches and convincing them to put theory into practice. When it comes to injury prevention for young athletes, there are several evidence-based programs available for coaches to implement with their players. 

Unfortunately, busy coaches don’t have the time to seek out these great ideas leaving their players at risk. According to a recent survey, only 21% of high school coaches were using an injury prevention program with their student-athletes despite research showing that this specific program reduces leg, knee and ankle injuries.

In just two sports, soccer and basketball, there were 335,000 high school athletes who suffered a lower extremity injury during the 2013-14 season, out of 1.7 million total players. While not much can be done about contact injuries, an injury prevention program that emphasizes stretching, muscle strengthening and agility exercises can significantly reduce overuse and movement injuries. Preventing a serious injury like an ACL tear can save a season and nine months of extensive rehab.

One of these programs, the FIFA 11+ warm-up, has shown good results when compared to using normal soccer warm-up exercises. One study reported that almost 2,000 female youth players had 30-50% fewer injuries when using the FIFA 11+ program.

"We know these programs are beneficial to the athletes," said Marc Norcross, an assistant professor of exercise and sport science in OSU's College of Public Health and Human Sciences. "If I were to recommend something to coaches, it would be to adopt one of these programs and follow it."

To find out if the message was getting out there, he organized a survey of 66 head coaches of basketball or soccer teams, both boys’ and girls’, from 15 different Oregon high schools to measure awareness of injury prevention programs and their levels of use.

Surprisingly, only half of the coaches had heard about available programs, with girls’ coaches being more aware of them then boys’ coaches. At the same time––and perhaps adding to the problem––less than half of the coaches thought that lower extremity injuries were a major issue for their team.

While only half of the coaches knew about these programs, a mere 21% were actually implementing one with their team. Even worse, only 10% were running the program exactly as prescribed by the experts that developed it.  

Still, 65% of the surveyed coaches reported that they did “something similar” in their warm-up routine once they learned the specifics of the recommended programs. That is part of the problem, as researchers don’t know exactly how programs like FIFA 11+ reduce injuries, only that they do. More research is necessary to find out the direct relationships.

"When a coach says, 'I already do most of those things, isn't that enough?’, the answer is, we don't know," Norcross said. "Maybe that is good enough. We need to find that out."

The research has been published in Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.

Once more is known about how to prepare an athlete’s body to avoid overuse or movement injuries, researchers like Dr. Norcross can come back with exact training regimens.

"For too long, we've been waiting for the perfect program to be developed," he said. "There's more we don't know than we do. But we should use the little we do know while we continue to learn more."

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Dan Peterson is a recovering sports dad who is fascinated with sports science research, skill development and the athlete’s brain. He has written over 400 science-based articles across the Web and consults with parents, coaches and young players to help them understand the cognitive side of sports. You can visit him at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental and at @DanielPeterson.

Release Date: May 16 2016

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