The coaching community is truly shining right now. I believe that coaches are some of the most important pieces in athletes lives at all times, however, there has never been a time where athletes need coaching more than right now. Their lives came to an abrupt stop and they need leadership now more than ever.
Having said that, one thing we need to consider is that we are going to be hit with a wave of athletes who are more deconditioned than we have ever seen. I’m sure you all can relate to that one athlete who walks into the gym and you know they have not been lifting anything besides an X-Box controller. Well, guess what, now the majority of the people in the gym will be in that boat. Of course there will be outliers, but the reality is that conditioning will be greatly decreased, strength levels and joint stability will be low, and mobility will have regressed.
The most challenging thing coaches are going to face is how we approach introducing our athletes to team practices, strength and speed training, and a general increase in total workload. What every coach, regardless of if you are a sport coach or strength coach, needs to consider is how they will get their athletes physically ready to play. Not just the fastest route back to competition. We truly need to ask ourselves how we are going to get our young athletes back to a strength and fitness level that will allow them to play with a comparable level of injury risk as they had prior to the shutdown.
The closest comparison we have to this shutdown is the NFL lockout in 2011. In the first month after returning from the lockout, which ended in late July, there were 12 Achilles Tendon ruptures. To give some context to that number, in the previous years the NFL averaged 5 ruptures per year. This is just one injury type. I believe we will see a rampant amount of ACL and soft tissue injuries if there is not a strict re-introduction protocol.
Based on the current projections, social distancing will be rolled back over the summer and in the best case athletes will be able to resume normal team activities in July. This is extremely close to the beginning of the fall sport season and will leave some time for club teams to have the option to squeeze in some tournaments.
I believe there should be two primary criteria that should be seriously considered. Remember, our #1 goal should be the health and wellbeing of our athletes rather than how fast we get back into competition.
Here are the two boxes I would like to check off if given an ‘ideal world’ scenario…
1: A minimum of 4 weeks for General Physical Preparation (GPP) that focuses on rebuilding strength levels, improving overall conditioning, and building force absorption capabilities. The goal of this should be restoring proper movement patterns, rebuilding muscle mass, and strengthening common injury areas (ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, neck)
2: A structured sprint and multi-directional running program that must be completed before any athlete is allowed to participate in team practices or competition. We know that the majority of injuries are non-contact which means we need to rebuild deceleration and reacceleration capabilities before we ask athletes to go all-out in a competitive setting.
Now, I realize that there is an urge to get back to sport as fast as possible. However, the levels of deconditioning will be unprecedented and if we rush our athletes back to playing their sport I believe we will see injury rates higher than we have ever seen. An OTA or Mini-Camp would be a great way to begin this. The key is to find low amplitude ways to reintroduce sport specific movement.
It is my absolute hope that we will be able to have a fall sports season. That said, I am very concerned with how ready the athletes will be. I pray that every coach uses this downtime to put together their plan to re-introduce sport, strength training, and movement back into their athletes. This is an unbelievably tough situation and there are no right answers. All we can do is try to forecast the best routs for our athletes and when given the green light we implement the plan.