High School Sports

High School Sports: How to Prepare Your High School Athlete for Competition, and Keep them in the Game

Across Colorado, high school students are back in school. That means that high school sports practices, meets, and games are underway! If your son or daughter is among the athletes competing for their school, here are a few important parent tips to put your high school athlete in the best position to succeed this fall.

Each year, there are more than one million high school sports injuries throughout the US. Did you know that high school athletes are injured in training and competition at approximately the same rate as professional athletes? One key difference is the high rate of growth-related injuries in high school sports sustained from young athletes’ developing bodies. Many injuries are preventable, and the sports medicine team at CCOE wants to help keep high school athletes on top of their game.

The two main types of high school sports injuries are acute and overuse. Acute injuries are the result of trauma, while overuse injuries stem from a lack of proper rest or recovery. These injuries impact both soft tissue and bones. Sprains, strains, and stress fractures are the most common injuries incurred by high school athletes.

The growth of a high school athlete begins with bone growth. As the athlete grows, longer bones create tight muscles and ligaments throughout the development cycle – leaving the soft tissue particularly vulnerable to injury from impact and high-stress movements such as pivots and cuts. Overuse injuries occur when repetition and rest are not balanced, and the body cannot effectively recover. Typical overuse injuries include ligaments, tendons, muscles, bones, and growth plates. Growing athletes are also susceptible to stress fractures that are the result of repeated activity that exceeds the body’s ability to generate new bone as they age.

Proper Preparation for a Successful High School Sports Season

Proper preparation for high school sports competition should start long before try-outs. To minimize the risk of injury, all athletes – especially young athletes – should ease their way into competition. When athletes suddenly increase the duration, intensity, or frequency of activity, injuries happen. Proper off-season conditioning, as well as moderation and diversity of activity, prepares an athlete’s body for the rigors of ramped up activity intensity and frequency.

A key element of pre-season preparation is a proper physical examination. A pre-season physical is required by most schools and provides more than medical clearance for competition; it offers great insight into areas of concern to watch for with your growing athlete.

Strength and Stretching

Injury prevention begins with strengthening and stretching muscles. Muscle strength, conditioning, and flexibility are all essential tools for growing bodies and essential elements of an injury prevention plan.

Strength training and conditioning provide the foundation of efficient body movements. Athletes that forgo strength training in favor of constant skill repetition miss the benefits of learning proper balance and muscle function, placing unnecessary strain on the body that can lead to injury. Athletes who do not receive proper strength training also fail to maximize neuromuscular control, which increases chances of getting hurt. Proper sports movements and balance reduce muscle strain, optimize performance, and reduce injuries. A good training plan balances both strength building and muscle lengthening exercises.

When it is time to perform, full spectrum stretching – both static and dynamic – prepares athletes’ bodies for strenuous performance. Static stretches, such as a hamstring stretch, hold a particular pose for a fixed period (generally 45 seconds), whereas dynamic stretches, such as lunges or twists, follow a brief jog or warmup and simulate muscle movements needed during competition.

Hydration and Diet

Proper hydration and nutrition are essential for all athletes. Not only do they optimize performance, the lack of either element can accelerate fatigue – which leads to poor mechanics and increased injury risk. Hydration is essential before, during, and after competition. Water is a vital part of recovery. Fall sports season in Colorado place high school athletes in a wide range of outdoor temperatures, and water is essential in every circumstance. Fatigue, nausea, vomiting, confusion, or fainting can all be warning signs of dehydration.

The Right Stuff

In addition to the right fuel, your body needs the right athletic equipment for the sport at hand. Proper protection, proper function, and proper fit are the essentials of effective sports equipment. Take the time to ensure that your equipment provides not only proper protection but also proper fit, and factor in ample time to break in your equipment to avoid preventable injury.

The right equipment and the right technique work hand-in-hand to support peak athletic performance. Emphasize proper technique and competition guidelines to your high school athlete. Clean play and sportsmanship are both essential elements of player safety. Young, competitive players will test the boundaries of both. Parents and coaches play vital roles in protecting all athletes on the field, court, or rink. Everyone wants to win, and sports rules help channel the competitive spirit to promote player safety.

Rest and Recovery

Rest is a particular challenge for high schoolers. Year-round sport specialization, extended seasons, and the rise of concurrent club and school team participation put growing athletes at increased risk of injury. Proper rest are daily needs and seasonal imperatives. Rest between trainings and rest after a competitive season is essential for growing athletes. The benefits are both physical and mental. Be mindful of the workload your high school athlete is carrying and use rest, cross-training, and low-impact conditioning to guard against overuse injury.

Don’t Play Through Pain

Teach your athlete to seek care if they are in pain. Too many high school athletes think they must “tough it out” and ignore early signs of pain that can be quickly resolved. Delayed treatment increases the injury as well as time away from the competitions they love. An athlete’s fear of missing playing time or letting their coach and teammates down can lead to a poor decision.

Young athletes try to push through pain, which often leads to more serious and preventable injuries. Parents know their children and can often recognize when they see their son or daughter’s performance and mechanics change. Trust your gut and, if in doubt, check it out. Keep the communication lines open and seek honest feedback about your son or daughter’s mental and physical well-being as the season unfolds.

Have a Care Plan in Place

When injuries do occur, it’s equally important that you are prepared with a treatment plan. Talk to your orthopedic specialist and your high school team trainer. Identify a trusted care team for your high school athlete who has a specific return to sport plan in place for your athlete. If your athlete is recovering from a serious injury or surgery, a top-quality sports medicine specialist will work with your athlete on a comprehensive recovery play, including physical therapy and regular progress reviews. This can include a Return to Sport Movement Analysis, which is a combination of tests that aid in determining each athlete’s readiness to return to sport.

Each year, thousands of local families trust the CCOE team of sports medicine specialists to provide orthopedic care for their high school athletes. Invest the time now to find the right resources so you can act when you need care. Ask questions, seek referrals, and plan for the specialized medical care of your son or daughter. High school is a special highlight for an athlete, and the right preparation puts them in the best position for success this fall.