Football, more than any other sport, is about developing players that are bigger, faster and stronger each and every year. This incessant drive can make players more prone to injury than they might otherwise be.
“There are two primary ways an athlete gets hurt,” says Brian Hainline, chief medical officer of the NCAA. “One is just bad luck. You slip or fall the wrong way, and that happens to the greatest. You can’t do anything about bad luck. But, another way is what we call overuse.”
Overuse of particular musculoskeletal groups sets up a pattern of pushing muscle groups and the skeletal system beyond their capability, without allowing the athlete time to recover.
“Any great athlete must be pushed to the edge of the cliff, if you will,” says Hainline. “But what you don’t want to do, and this is the metaphor, is you never want to push someone over the edge of the cliff. You want to push them right to the edge, and that’s when an athlete figures out for himself or herself what he needs to do creatively to always stay there, survive there and excel there. That’s what differentiates a great athlete from a good athlete. Great athletes develop that creative wisdom of getting all the way to the edge and figuring out how to stay there. A good coach helps someone do that.”
Even today, certain coaches think about the word “recovery” as a sign of weakness in a game that places enormous value on going above and beyond the call of duty. But over the last 10 years, Hainline says, coaches and trainers have learned that pushing athletes beyond their limits can have extremely detrimental effects on the body and actually be counterproductive to the success of the program.
“Even 10 years ago, coaches would push their athletes in hot weather, and they didn’t want those athletes to take a drink. The thought was that they were being weak, not being a man,” says Hainline. “Now we know that when athletes are well hydrated, they perform a lot better. This is an example of preventing injuries while being mindful of overuse.”
A great coach not only understands the physical part of what the athlete is going through, but also the mental part. Hainline and his team within the NCAA are placing enormous emphasis on the student-athlete’s mental health as a means of injury prevention.
“I think student-athletes have a certain aptitude for being goal-oriented and are less prone to conditions such as depression. We have evidence on that,” he says. “On the other hand, we have evidence that when a student-athlete is pushed beyond his limit, or he’s not finding meaning in what he’s doing, or he is losing the motivation, that is when he starts burning out and becomes more susceptible to injury.”
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