How Professional Sports Teams Can Prevent Injuries (…and Why They Aren’t Likely to Overcome Their Biggest Obstacles)

If you follow professional sports, then you know that season after season, most organizations are highly invested in doing everything they can to win a championship.

Given the fact that millions of dollars are being paid out to every athlete that makes it to the field of play, you might be surprised to hear that year after year, most organizations don’t have a reliable system in place to prevent injuries.

If we’re being realistic, the need for professional sports teams to prevent injuries is still a big piece of the puzzle.  <figure><img src="https://www.engagingmuscles.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/prevent-injuries-puzzle-piece.jpg" alt="prevent injuries written on puzzle piece" width="560" Height="364" /></figure>

Which makes prevention a key piece of the puzzle.  And something that most organizations haven’t found an answer for.

And yet, taking the necessary steps to prevent injuries continues to take a back seat to relying on higher education (and old ways of thinking…).

Case in point, considering that muscles are a professional athlete’s first line of defense against an injury, prior to applying the next fancy strength exercise or the latest twist on stretching, it makes a whole lot of sense to put more of an emphasis on how muscles are performing from the start.

Not only how muscles are performing at the time of signing a player.  Actually knowing how each and every muscle is performing prior to every practice and game throughout the life of the contract.

In Smart Baseball, Keith Law dedicates a good part of the last chapter in his book to how teams in Major League Baseball are taking steps to prevent injuries.  According to Law’s findings, the real need to prevent injuries is on the radar.

One great point that Jim Collins brought to light in Good To Great (paraphrasing): For any organization that’s willing to put in the effort that it takes to go from good to great, they’ll want to make a real commitment to getting the right people on the bus.

Because up until now, it’s their mindset that has their ladder leaning against the wrong wall.

This, at a time when the intention of most professional sports teams is to always be looking for the next BIG THING that provides an edge.

The part of the equation that’s not being looked at: investing in more and more technology and sharing data amongst one another isn’t capable of improving a muscle’s ability to fire at the right time, in the right direction, or at the right joint.

Sadly, most professional athletes don’t even know what it feels like to have muscles pulling at the right time.

(Proprioception)

Said another way, most professional athletes haven’t experienced what it feels like to perform with more stability throughout their chain.

Imagine leaving the role of an entire system out of the equation (i.e., the muscular system). 

And then expect to prevent injuries along the way.

The athlete and the organization that employs them just don’t know what they don’t know.  And if the organization leaves it up to the experts who inhabit the training room, they’ll continue to get what they’ve been getting for all of these years.

Thus, trying to go forward with their current thought process isn’t going to allow a player to come back from an injury any quicker.

Having said that, if an organization were to decide to embrace the role of the muscular system, a much faster return and the ability for an athlete to perform better at the time that they return to the field of play is entirely possible.

(Principles)

By avoiding the tight muscles, players would return to the field of play feeling completely confident in the level that they are capable of performing at.

Imagine how the investments of each organization would be better utilized.  And if everything else is in place, how many championships could be had.

As bizarre as this may sound, the reality is that every time a pitcher takes the mound, nobody in the organization knows which muscles are capable of playing their role at the right time.

Not only throughout a pitcher’s multi-million dollar throwing arm, but rather, all the way down to their big toe. 

Therefore, much like that of a position player, the level of stability throughout every link in a pitcher’s chain matters.

If a team in Major League Baseball wants to improve velocity and in turn keep a tighter rotation or “spin rate” on the ball, then, it’s important to recognize that the way in which they are currently using technology to determine muscle fatigue is more than a little flawed.

Hence, for any team that aims to prevent injuries, and at the same time improve the rate of spin on a breaking ball, they need to take a good hard look at how they are determining when and where muscles are fatiguing.

“We often envision the brain as an organ whose ultimate function is thinking, a sort of biological headquarters for imagination, rumination, and ideas.  While it does, of course, execute those functions, those are not your brain’s main agenda.  The brain has evolved to control our bodies so that our bodies can manipulate our environments.”

– Tali Sharot, THE INFLUENTIAL MIND

I don’t know about you, but given the investment, I choose to believe that professional athletes, and the organizations that they’re a part of, intend to place value on the same things.

Meaning, every time a player takes the field, both parties want to ensure that they have the ability to perform at the level that they know they can.

Within the same lines, they also want to feel confident in knowing that every link in the chain is as strong (and stable) as it can possibly be.

[ Important note: Going into battle, the one thing that’s being overlooked is that more strength doesn’t equate to more stability. ]

In other words, the brain of a professional athlete doesn’t have any regard for how much of an emphasis an expert places on them having more strength or even more flexibility.

Truth be told, since nothing has been done to improve a muscle’s ability to overcome the pull of gravity at the right time, strength and flexibility programs are only capable of addressing the symptoms.

Last week, I told a client that given what his mechanics were showing, he could just as easily have plantar fasciitis, but instead, for over a year, this college athlete had been dealing with jumper’s knee.

In the first session, I only worked on two muscles that would directly play a role at his knee (i.e., articularis genu and popliteus).

Even though those two little muscles are located at the knee, when they’re functioning optimally, they will also have an impact on how joints above and below the knee will move.

(Process)

The rest of the time was spent addressing the attachments of the muscles at his hip, lower leg, and foot (i.e., gastrocnemius, abductor digiti minimi, and the piriformis muscle).

<figure><img src="https://www.engagingmuscles.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Albert-Pujols-Stretching-Baseball-Field.jpg" alt="Albert-Pujols-stretching-on-baseball-field" width="560" Height="350" /></figure>

For more information, hover over this image. photo credit: Albert Pujols Stretching via photopin (license)

Regardless of what the expert’s intentions are, there’s still a lot of moving parts, and a brain that’s right there to look out for where each athlete finds stability.

[ Important note: When you understand how to apply force to a muscle or multiple muscles at the same time (something that’s not taught in college), there are ways of not allowing as much of an opportunity for an athlete’s brain to find the path where their body can find stability.  The way is via isometric exercises.  Since there’s no motion at the joint, this approach to performing a strength exercise is a great way to avoid most of the compensations that come along with exercises that involve a lot of moving parts (e.g., squats).  When it comes to all the ways in which an athlete can perform an isometric strength exercise, Brad Thorpe is leading the way. ]

Seeing as how the role of the human brain isn’t accounted for from the start of most strength or flexibility programs, by placing more and more of an emphasis on either one, both end up leading to more compensation that adds up.

Said another way, since the brain’s ability to find stability hasn’t been accounted for prior to applying a strength exercise, professional athletes are expected to go forward with a false sense of strength.

More strength without optimal stability doesn’t prevent injuries.

Going forward, organizations have to start to recognize that human performance is more about what the brain perceives.

Muscles are what they are.  Meaning, muscles are just dumb pieces of meat that are going off of where each athlete’s brain finds stability.

And due to the history of injury et cetera, an athlete’s brain is capable of finding stability in a multitude of different ways.

Which speaks to the need to look at every athlete as an individual.

By placing an emphasis on increasing strength without optimal stability at every joint, the experts have only continued to put the cart before the horse.

So when you see a professional athlete return to the field of play, they aren’t performing better than when they went out of the game for an extended period of time.

Instead, each and every time that an athlete makes their return to play, they have less and less stability.

Since nothing has been done to address the amount of stability at the joint, muscles aren’t capable of taking advantage of motion at the right time.

Which means that even though a professional athlete and the organization that’s employing them aren’t aware of it at the time, the reality is, with less and less stability provided by their muscular system, the athlete is even more vulnerable to an injury down the road.

(Priorities)

“Most people think only in terms of what they’ve been taught; schooling itself aims to impart conventional wisdom.  So you might ask: are there any fields that matter but haven’t been standardized and institutionalized?”

 Peter Thiel, ZERO to ONE

The longer professional organizations continue to rely on higher education as an avenue to prevent injuries, the longer the experts that are responsible for improving performance and rehabilitating injuries will have to hide.

Hide and pretend that they’re capable of doing more than they’re actually capable of delivering.

The values of the professional sports teams aren’t in line with the values of the athletes that they’ve paid millions of dollars to acquire.  (And up until now, they haven’t been able to identify where the disconnect is.)

No matter the role that an individual plays in a particular area of their life, other than ego, the one constant is that there are things that an individual can say, there are things that an individual can’t say, and lastly, there are things that an individual won’t say.

This is about nature.  Human nature. It’s about the innate need to be part of a tribe.

It’s also about the countless amount of unconscious knee-jerk hooks that we come up against every day.  

If you aren’t familiar with all the ways in which these various hooks unconsciously impact decision making, think of these invisible hooks as stories that the experts continue to tell themselves.

See, when the rest of the tribe supports a certain vantage point, well, let’s just say that it’s not uncommon for an expert to want things to stay just as they are.

Meanwhile, the entire tribe is stuck in a vicious cycle that has consequences.

This at a time when, every year, billions of dollars are spent on back pain.  And you don’t have to look too far to see that the rate of injuries hasn’t gone down.

In fact, at the time of writing this, I came across a recent edition of Sports Illustrated with a cover that reads, CARNAGE – Inside the NFL’s Season of Pain by Greg Bishop

Back in 2007, on my drive to ESPN, I heard Bill Simmons ask Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus what he feels the next trend will be. Sheehan’s response, “I think the next thing is going to be health. The team that finds a way to keep its players the healthiest over a period of years. Cuz every time…you know…an 8 million dollar player misses a month, okay…that’s a million dollars you’ve lost. That’s a million bucks of performance.”

If you’re keeping up with the math, it’s been over a decade since Joe Sheehan made that prediction on the B.S. Report podcast.

And the rate of injuries has only gone up.  (emphasis added)

In the 2017 season, hamstring injuries were running rampant throughout Major League Baseball (MLB.com article by Lindsay Berra).  If you have a certain amount of knowledge and the ability to read between the lines, it won’t take long for you to recognize that the experts that are quoted are only contributing to Major League Baseball teams not being able to prevent injuries.

“If someone is doing their job poorly, consider whether it is due to inadequate learning or inadequate ability.”

– Ray Dalio, PRINCIPLES

In this case, the inability to prevent injuries is about both inadequate learning and ability.

See, in order for efficient motion to be realized, your brain has to sense stability at the joints in which all motion takes place.

Imagine that your brain is a musical instrument.  By using your spinal cord as a delivery system, your brain is capable of delivering the most in-depth feedback stream to your muscles.  And your muscles?  Your muscles are the musicians.  Once your brain senses that your muscles are capable of providing stability, all of the musicians within this intricate system will be on point and fully capable of hitting every note at just the right time.

When all of this feedback is capable of reaching the station, your muscles are capable of creating and sustaining the most beautiful movement.

Movement that’s well orchestrated.

Now, imagine that there’s a kink in the hose that’s responsible for delivering all of this valuable feedback.

When this happens, muscles aren’t capable of holding up their end of the deal.

Meaning, when nothing has been done to clear the kink, all of that valuable feedback is lost.

This all too common scenario throws off the timing at which joints take advantage of the motions that go right along with pronation and supination.

Although few will acknowledge this, for decades, the majority of the experts that inhabit the training room have settled for mediocre results.

And until a professional sports team decides to step up to the plate and make some major changes in how they plan to prevent injuries, they will continue to see the same amount of injuries occurring. 

Injuries that can be avoided.

As you might have already imagined, I think it’s time to change that.

SHIP.

Art.

A BIG thanks in advance.  🙂

Thanks for taking the time to read this post!  If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to Engaging Muscles.  You can also like Engaging Muscles on Facebook, subscribe to my YouTube Channel or feel free to connect with me on Twitter @rickmerriam.

Photo Credit: Albert Pujols Stretching via photopin (license)

Books Mentioned (affiliate):

Smart Baseball by Keith Law

Good To Great by Jim Collins

The Influential Mind by Tali Sharot

Zero to One by Peter Theil

Principles by Ray Dalio

 

 

 

Summary
How Professional Sports Teams Can Prevent Injuries
Article Name
How Professional Sports Teams Can Prevent Injuries
Description
The need to prevent injuries in professional sports is at an all-time high. With the right systems in place, the most common injuries can be avoided across all professional sports.
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I have held a license to practice massage therapy for over 20 years. For the first 18 years of my career, I was a nationally certified personal trainer. During that time, I completed thousands of one-on-one personal training sessions. I went on to teach biomechanics to personal trainers, group exercise instructors, and physical therapists throughout New England. I worked as a sports massage therapist at ESPN. Over the last few years, I have been quoted in Runner’s World UK, Massage Therapy & Bodywork, Massage Magazine, IDEA Fitness Journal, Massage & Fitness Magazine, and The Guardian Liberty Voice. I have also served as an applied biomechanics consultant for the fitness staff at Canyon Ranch, The Greenbrier, and ESPN. For the last 8 years, I've been teaching applied anatomy & kinesiology at Parker University. I have a private sports massage therapy practice in Dallas, Texas.