Let's face it - injury prevention isn't sexy but it sure is important.
Optimal performance and injury prevention are parallel tracks, but convincing athletes to become active participants in the daily maintenance of their own bodies can be a real challenge.
Here's the truth of the situation: the best clinician in the world cannot compete with the daily behavior and lifestyle of their athlete.
In a typical situation a clinician will see an athlete for about 1 hour each week. That leaves about 167 hours each week for the athlete to reverse any changes made during a session, intentional or not. With this in mind, it seems reasonable that the best course of action for the bulk of the time you spend with an athlete should include some form of education and behavior modification.
When treating athletes in a clinical practice the easy part is identifying movement problems and using various means and methods by which to correct these problems. This is all moot however, unless we can convince and inspire athletes to change behaviors that will help them to prevent and recover from injury in the future.
The best recourse then is to educate athletes on how to maintain and care for their own frame on a daily basis, and the key is framing it from a performance based paradigm.
Know Your Audience
There must be a connection between the practice of self directed maintenance and the improvement it will bring to their performance.
Case in point: athletes DO NOT care that their pelvis is asymmetrical unless you show them how it effects their squat numbers.
They don’t care about being pain free either, because if they did they probably wouldn’t be athletes in the first place.
The act of training for a sport is an uncomfortable and often painful process, less actually competing in said sport. Athletes learn to shut pain signals down and get after it.
Educating athletes about the reasoning behind the protocols given serve as a powerful motivational tool and can ultimately help athletes become autonomous freestylers when it comes to learning about how to keep their machines healthy.
Keep It Super Simple (KISS)
Giving athletes homework that will show some change in performance initially is a sure fire way to keep them interested in continuing behaviors that can positively shape their health and performance in the long term, but you should keep it simple. Here are a couple guidelines:
Don’t over prescribe.
For most athletes 2-3 exercises is enough. The idea here is to help them develop a quiver of tools they can go to when injuries/pain begins to arise. Not only does this put your athlete in the driver seat, it better equips coaching and therapy staffs to delegate resources towards athletes who are in need of more immediate attention.
Consider time restraints.
Give a realistic amount of homework that doesn’t rob the person of too much time. Time is the most precious commodity we have and people are stingy with it. Giving an overwhelming amount of homework can be frustrating and will most likely never get done at all. Creating another stressor on top of an injury or performance limiter for an athlete is counterproductive and ultimately a waste of time.
For most folks 10 minutes a day is a great start and is also the absolute minimum amount of time required to make a positive change. Once you can show your athlete the value of the practice it gets easier to ask them to devote more of their time and energy to this type of work.
Create realistic expectations.
Rates of change in athletes with injuries are multifactorial and can be hard to predict. One thing that is for sure is that if they discontinue potentially injurious behaviors and are diligent with self care their likelihood of rapid success is much higher.
Although we do know “healing rates” for structures in the human body, being ready to perform at a comparable pre-injury performance is much more nebulous and is best left to conservative predictions.
If you set a false expectation and don’t come through it’s easy to drive the individual towards non-compliance and sometimes right before a potential tipping point in their progress.
See It From The Athletes Perspective
In sum, put yourself in the athlete’s shoes.
Being an athlete is a deep part of a person’s identity and taking away the ability to perform can be very challenging for athletes both physically and psychologically. Thoughtfully integrating self treatment protocols into an athletes training plan is a very effective way to deal with current problems and to prevent future ones, and it gives the athlete a set of tools to take ownership for the future.
Education is the key to making the 167 hours the athlete is not your care conducive to optimizing performance.
Make it about performance, keep it super simple, be precise and time effective and watch your athletes flourish.