Start where they are, not where you think they should be

I see quite a few young athletes who have sustained their injuries in their first S and C session when transitioning from junior to senior levels. When I consider the activity associated with the injury, I am always interested to know what assessment took place to decide that this was the appropriate start point for the athlete. The answer is often either a generic movement test which may have had little relationship to the task, or no specific movement testing at all. Warm ups are particularly problematic, as they are perceived as relatively low load activities, and therefore of low risk, and are thus not subject to the same scrutiny as would be applied in the weights gym.

A recent example is a young man transitioning from the junior to senior national elite programme, who sustained his back injury in the warm up. What was the movement? Progressive rotational lunges with a 20kg plate. On testing, this young man could not manage a static lunge position, let alone while turning his shoulders with no weight at all.  A dynamic loaded version was well beyond his capabilities. He had fallen victim to the problem of being trained for who and where the organisation thought he should be, and where he certainly could be in the future, instead of where he was right now.

If someone had established a baseline for the present, he could have been progressed systematically into his future. In not acknowledging and accepting his current capability, the athlete was injured instead.

This transition period is a particularly sensitive time. We have athletes in their later teens moving into an adult training regimen, yet many are still carrying the effects of adolescent growth in their movement, coordination and proprioception. They frequently need a bridging period to establish the foundations that they will need for the higher training volumes that they will need to endure.

Starting at too high a level doesn’t get anyone anywhere faster. It stimulates a coping mechanism at best, and opens the possibility for injury if the individual’s capacity is insufficient to the load and skill demands of the task.

Take the time to identify where the athlete truly is and be prepared to build from that level. Progress will ultimately be faster and more sustainable.

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