My day job title is "Physical Therapist" in our Garage Gym of Dreams PT clinic. My colleagues and I have treated athletes of every stripe: power athletes, endurance athletes, dancers, outdoor adventurers, weight-room lifers. We've seen every skill level, from professional athletes to Division 1 collegiate scholarship athletes, to high school All-Americans and Club-Level junior high athletes.
The most surprising thing about all of these athletes? They have the exact same problems. Yes, I've seen Major League Baseball players with the exact same issues as a physically immature high school baseball player. Name the sport and the problems are the same at every level.
Because no one is taking responsibility for our athletes.
It's systemic: junior high coaches expect the high school coach to teach their kids how to lift and train correctly. The high school coach does the best they can but the ratio of coaches to players is usually 1:3 or higher. So the high coach expects the college strength and conditioning coach to teach their kids the right way to train. But the college S&C coach usually has multiple sports teams to train and is mainly concerned with not breaking the athletes they're training so they can actually compete in their sport. Can't squat with your feet straight and your knees in a good position? There's no guarantee you're going to get that corrected in college when the S&C staff supervises 100’s of athletes per-day in the weight room.
Let’s say you make it to the pros. Surely the instruction there is better, right?
Your job is to win, and the training staff is mainly focused on keeping you on the field. You have two options in the pros when you get hurt: take a pill or injection and keep trying to play, or shut it down and have surgery and try to get back as soon as you can so someone else doesn't take your job. Unfortunately, in the pros winning trumps athlete health in the short and long-term.
Why is this a problem and what does this have to do with our kids?
I'll illustrate the problem further with a few numbers:
Overall, female athletes are 8 TIMES more likely to tear their ACL's than their male counterparts. A personal note here: the notions that this difference is because of female hip width, tibia size, or hormone levels is one of the most misogynistic, sexist, and offensive theories sports medicine has come up with in a long time. The reality is we are NEGLECTING our girls and not teaching them the basics of how to train to get stronger and more resilient.
The number of youth sports concussions DOUBLED from 2002 to 2012.
The American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) estimates that in the last decade nearly 30% of their UCL repairs (more commonly known as Tommy John surgery) have been for youth and high school athletes.
45-50% of youth sports injuries are overuse injuries. Our kids are competing too often without proper instruction on how to recover well and our sports coaches don't know how to spot an under-recovered athlete.
The solution to these problems is not going to come from the top down. Your primary care provider doesn't have the time or the knowledge to fix this problem. Your high school math teacher has received little if any training on how to develop a youth athlete. Parents, in general, are simply overwhelmed and reliant on a system that is fundamentally flawed, hoping that system doesn't break their children. Meanwhile, the U.S. sports system treats our youth athletes like a bunch of eggs, throwing them all against a brick wall and seeing which ones don't break.
People, there is a better way. In the weight room, on the court, or in the field, the goal is to win AND come out unharmed.
I'm proposing a new idea. A grassroots strength and conditioning program for our kids. If you're a parent, grandparent, strength coach, or physical therapist you can change the conversation and the direction of youth athletics.
How do we get started?
Start local. Like neighborhood local. I’m volunteering with my son's soccer team and we’re focused on teaching the boys how to have fun, move well, and pick up some soccer skills along the way. All of the best practices we use with our high-level athletes spin back to best practices with our kids. That's what makes them best practices-they work for everybody.
If you want to learn how to train a youth athlete to improve their general athleticism, my colleagues at Power Athlete have put together a great course to show trainers, coaches, and parents how to create a quality strength and conditioning program based on sound training principles. You can click here to learn more about the course.
And if you're a parent or grandparent and want your youth athlete to not just survive but thrive in their sport, you can click our inquiry form at the top of the page and we can discuss the in-person and virtual options we offer for youth athletes.