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Smart Moves: Making Practices Safer

youth sports injuries

Warmup and cooldown drills should be taken seriously on a daily basis, and static and dynamic stretching should be integrated

Injuries in sports happen, but maybe not when you think they do. When it comes to player safety, don’t forget about warmups and practice.

For athletes, game day is a time to step up one’s effort and intensity. Part of it is about performing well in front of friends and family, and part of it is simply being committed to besting the competition.

Perhaps that’s why so many people think that the amped-up nature of competing in games would lead to more injuries among athletes, but studies have shown that perhaps it’s practice where most injuries happen and not games.

According to a recent study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which tracked competitive volleyball players aged 12 through 17, researcher and volleyball player Derek Meeuwisse found that 61 percent of concussions happened outside of games (46 percent happened during practice and 15 percent happened during warmups).

The risk stemmed from how players collected loose balls during hitting and serving drills — they were more likely to turn their backs on the action and get hit in the head with a ball.

Another study published by JAMA Pediatrics analyzed data collected on 20,000 football players competing at the youth, high school and college levels. What was interesting is that among older players (high school and college), 58 percent of concussions occurred during practices.

So, when it comes to player safety, it’s not just about game time. Perhaps one of the most important things coaches can do is educate their players on the frequency of injuries outside of games, helping their athletes pay more attention to preparation and injury prevention.

It’s important to set rules and boundaries for practices. The JAMA Pediatrics study did recommend limiting contact in practice for football players, while developing warmup routines that that can improve safety is also a good idea. Warmup and cooldown drills should be taken seriously on a daily basis, and static and dynamic stretching should be integrated.

Additionally, coaches should stay vigilant and consider avoiding practicing athletes that are fatigued — and especially if they’re dealing with a nagging injury. Finally, it’s a good idea to encourage athletes to get some sleep.

A 2014 study of adolescent athletes by the National Institute of Health showed that athletes who slept (on average) less than 8 hours a night were 1.7 times more likely to have had an injury compared to athletes who slept 8 hours or more.

Hopefully by taking the proper safety precautions, practice will really make perfect.

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