Fall is here and another prep football season has begun. Football is the most glamorous and popular high school sport, and the conditioning these young athletes endure puts them in peak physical shape. It also is the sport most prone to injuries.
The line of scrimmage is a battlefield on every down. Because it requires applied force to stop an opponent, football players are susceptible to injury anywhere on their bodies, despite protective gear. The physical act of tackling a 200-plus-pound moving opponent makes the tackler vulnerable to many types of injuries, and the player carrying the ball can be equally vulnerable if he falls the wrong way or takes a vicious hit.
Injuries in football are inevitable byproducts of the game. Additional hazards can include heat exhaustion and misuse of nutritional supplements. While all of these possible mishaps can't be totally prevented, there are steps that can be taken to minimize the risks, starting with greater awareness on the part of parents and the coaches. Coaches shoulder primary responsibility for preparing these young men for the rigors of the game. In most instances, the coach is the "sideline doc." Unfortunately, not all are properly trained in conditioning methods or have an understanding of basic first-aid techniques.
Dr. Matthew McQueen, a family practice/sports medicine specialist with Ochsner Clinic Foundation, stresses the importance of weight training under proper supervision to enable players to better withstand the physical punishment of football.
Ochsner physical therapist Danielle Porche says all athletes should prepare for games and practice with an adequate warm-up and stretching program. Because injuries can occur when muscles aren't properly stretched then are taken past their limits, these injuries can lead to chronic problems.
To avoid dehydration, McQueen recommends that players slowly acclimate themselves to the heat. He advises coaches to stay alert to the hydration levels of their players and keep them supplied with water or other replacement fluids every 15-20 minutes. He also recommends that players be weighed before and after every practice. Players can be expected to lose a few pounds through excessive perspiration. However, if the weight loss at the end of the workout is more than 3 percent of the player's starting weight, he should not be allowed back on the field until he has re-established his previous weight.
Finally, it is important to promote a cool-down process after practice and games to avoid muscle spasms.
Football injuries range from minor contusions to limb fractures and concussions. All should be taken seriously by the coaches, the players and their parents. Playing injured invites the risk of greater injury. Learning how to tackle an opponent in a way that is least injurious to both players is one of the main keys to safety. There are videotapes available that demonstrate the proper tackling techniques, and they should be required viewing by both coaches and players.
Parents play a key role in the safety and well being of their youngsters. They should not push them beyond their physical limits or encourage them to play hurt. McQueen also recommends that parents monitor which supplements their kids are taking, and consult with a sports nutritionist or sports medical specialist if they have concerns.
My personal advice, after 25 years of performance enhancement training at the pro, college and high school levels, is that you may not get a second chance to prevent a season-ending injury or worse for your child. Learn what it takes, both physically and mentally, to play the game and prepare accordingly, starting with a comprehensive musculoskeletal evaluation.
Mackie Shilstone is Ochsner Clinic Foundation's performance enhancement expert at Elmwood Fitness Center. He is also the author of two books, Lose Your Love Handles (Perigee Books) and Maximum Energy for Life (John Wiley & Sons). He can be reached at 842-9110 or www.mackieshilstone.com.