The number one goal of athletic training is not to make the athlete stronger, faster, or better at their sport. They are close, but there is one thing that is most important: Injury Prevention. If an athlete is injured, none of those other things matter. Being the fastest player on the team doesn’t do any good if they are stuck on the sidelines with a blown out knee. Now there is no way to prevent injuries 100%. Freak accidents happen, but we can greatly reduce the risk of injury with intentional training.
Let me start off with a question that was posed by strength coach Robert Dos Remedios. He once asked, “How fast would you drive a Ferrari without brakes?”. Probably not very fast, right? It is the same with athletes. A majority of athletic injuries occur during slowing down, landing, changing direction, or any kind of stopping. So why do we spend so much time worrying about making our athletes the fastest and strongest without considering how well they can stop? In order to become a great athlete, training with the specific goal of stopping and reducing injuries is essential.
LEARNING TO STOP
In sports, there are three common types of movements that should be considered when training deceleration. Landing from jumping, decelerating from running, and changing direction, which is a very diverse movement pattern. All of these movements involve absorbing some type of force, and learning to control this force is how we can best prevent injury.
Landing: When an athlete jumps up in the air, they have to come down at some point. The thing that we are working on when training to land is the athletes ability to accept load. When we land, the load caused by gravity has to go somewhere, and athletes need to be able to control that.
Decelerating: Almost every sport in the world involves some type of running. But even the fastest athlete needs to stop at some point, and in most cases, they don’t have a long runway to do that. They need to slow down quickly and on the spot. Because of this, it is important that an athlete learns to slow down safely.
Change of Direction: This is kind of a unique movement, as it does not have a specific direction (meaning vertical or linear). One example is a football player juking around a defender. This is something that occurs in every sport and on many planes of movement (directions), so athletes need to be able to absorb force in many directions, and continue to move.
Athletes face these types of situations every day in practice and in every single game. That is why it is so important to intentionally train athletes to learn how to absorb and control the force that is placed on their bodies when stopping. Like I said before, keeping athletes healthy and safe is the most important goal of training, and learning to land, decelerate, and change direction is the best way to make sure they stay on the field or court, rather than sitting on the bench with an injury.
There are a few ways to intentionally train athletes to absorb force in these patterns; neuromuscular training, increasing strength, and intentional force loading. I discuss them further in part 2 of this blog, “Training Athletes to Stop and Absorb Force”