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Youth football coaches can prevent injuries with 90 minutes of training

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Basic training for youth football coaches on how to prevent injuries has been shown to improve movement technique and prevent injury in young players.

A study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport shows that when coaches receive even a small amount of education about preventive training, they can be as effective as professional athletic trainers at mitigating poor movement behaviour and preventing anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee injury.

Preventive training can include jump training, strengthening and other types of exercises to promote proper movement techniques.

“Past research has show that injury prevention programmes are absolutely successful when healthcare professionals implement the programme. But that isn’t a feasible, long-term solution,” said study co-author Dr Thomas Trojian, a professor in the College of Medicine and chief medical officer for Drexel Athletics.

In addition to the time-intensive nature of preventive training programmes, many youth sports groups lack the funding necessary to hire athletic trainers. And until now, there has been limited evidence to suggest coaches could implement them without professional guidance, Trojian explained.

The new study involved 12 youth soccer (football) teams and was conducted by researchers at Drexel College of Medicine, the University of Connecticut and California State University, Fresno.

During the autumn season, one group had athletic trainers lead the teams through a preventive training programme before every practice, while the control group teams performed their normal warm-up.

Two weeks before the spring season, coaches of all teams, including those in the control group, attended a 90-minute preventive training workshop and were instructed to implement the training as a team warm-up before practices and games.

A Landing Error Score System (LESS) — which evaluates specific jump-landing tasks in order to predict injury risk — showed that the preventive training programme enhanced movement technique for the majority of players, regardless of whether the athletes played on teams that employed athletic trainers for preventive training warm-ups.

What’s more, there was no difference between score improvements in the autumn and spring seasons, suggesting that well-trained coaches can be as effective as professionals at implementing injury prevention warm-ups.

Results also showed that, when examining only participants classified as “high injury risk” prior to the season, the athletes who received preventive training during both seasons were three times more likely to improve injury risk classification than their peers.

“Whether it’s a health care professional or a head coach who implements the programme, it doesn’t appear to make a difference, as long as the coach is properly trained,” said lead author Luke Pryor, an assistant professor at California State University, Fresno. “But, what this study also highlights, is that if you continue doing this programme through multiple seasons — as a normal part of your training — you’ll see greater benefits in those athletes who have the worst movement control and highest risk of injury.”