At every level of athletics, the ability to perform has been the threshold by which all competitors are judged. Performance, or success, is what matters to coaches. Success is what matters to the athlete. Hell, success is what matters to the fans, when it comes to sports at the professional level. Performance, and flashy moments drive instruction, strategy, wins, losses, you name it. And it’s what drives our memories as we look back at seasons past in our favorite sport. With maybe one exception. We also remember…the catastrophic injuries suffered by our favorite athletes.
It can be tragic when an athlete, at any level, goes down with and injury, and a career is cut short. Seeing someone like Tiger Woods, have his career be cut short is awful. But, it may be even more tragic when a youngster has an injury that prevents them from playing any sport. With a young person, it can even impact their development as they grow into adulthood. It seems like the worst possible scenario isn't losing your ability to be great when you are at the top of your game, but rather...potential never realized. For an athlete to never have the opportunity to see their abilities on display is terrible, but to have a teenager walk with a limp for the rest of their lives is beyond words. Especially when the injury comes from something stupid or benign.
Recently, we’ve started helping coaches and parents identify faulty mechanics and possible problems related to joint position for their student athletes. As we do our analysis, we hear comments like “my son always had a bit of a funny walk” or “my daughter could always move easier to her left” and so on. Parents are amazing at spotting potential issues. After all, they spend a great deal of watching their kids growing and playing. Often times, they just don’t know what to do about the little issues they see, or they pass it off as their child’s “style” of movement…etc. Sometimes these little differences are written off as coordination problems, a lack of balance, and even diminished talent or athleticism. And strong athletes that get injured are just a susceptible to short sporting careers because of their imbalances. Success on the court, or on the field, is not an indication of proper mechanics. Success is also not guaranteed because you have good mechanics. However, when you have good mechanics, you have the opportunity to succeed, and succeed for a much longer time. A balanced athlete will also come through their playing days with a body ready to do other things in life than the sport they have dedicated themselves to for so long.
Coaches also have an amazing ability to identify mechanical problems with their athletes. Some athletes train and train to master a drill, or learn a skill that they are just not able to perform due to the imbalances they possess. And coaches are typically experts at their sports, and experts on what’s needed to compete at a high level. But if you have an athlete that always a step behind in practice, or show an incredible amount of athleticism in most areas of the sport, the first tendency is to believe that “nobody’s perfect”. Or that an athlete “can’t be great at everything”. And great coaches assign their players tp positions where they will have the most success athletically. Which is frankly the right decision. Successful coaches have successful teams. Successful teams have successful players.
So why does a player suffer ridiculous injuries? Why does and injury occur by taking a weird step? A weird step? A step? Aren't we strong enough to handle a single step? Why does someone get hurt when they do something as benign as bending over to pick up a pencil ? Pencils aren't heavy. That’s not hard. Bending over shouldn't cause an injury. Running over ground with huge holes, or tripping on something…that’s what should cause an injury. Not walking normally. But it happens. And it happens because the body that is in motion, is off balance. When you are out of balance, even the smallest of movements can create huge effects. Good and bad. It's not the turf, or the court, or your shoes. It's you.
Biomechanics, practically speaking, is the study of how the body moves. Seeing the problem is just the first step. How the the body moves with that little problem you've just identified is the next thing to address. Once you have identified the mechanical problem, fixing it is the obvious next step. And usually the answer is not more. More strength might be the answer to weakness. And more flexibility might be the answer to tightness. But when you are talking about faulty mechanics, the answer is “proper movement”, not more movement, proper movement.
The strength coach is a great resource for strengthening the athlete. Strength coaches are expanding their tool boxes to include evaluations of their athlete's mechanics. Just remember that adding strength to faulty mechanics makes the problem worse, not better. It makes the imbalance stronger too. Fix the positional problems and mechanical problems before you strengthen your athlete. A strong, balanced athlete, will be able to endure any season and be around for many seasons to come.
If you’re a parent or a coach, and you’d like to get your athlete evaluated by the folks at Ouch! you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org