I’ve been contemplating a lot lately on the bigger picture of injury and performance; Injury prevention is talked about, and training programs are supposed to help reduce the risk of injury. This I completely agree.
My thoughts are that the injury prevention focus might be worded incorrectly. These words become our perspective and our actions progress from there. I think “injury prevention/reduction” creates a subconscious fear response: defensive at the least.
The other side of the same coin is improving performance. What does it take to improve athletic performance?
Lots of experts now discuss the concept of long-term athletic development, a slowing of the physical developmental process in order to get things right; fixing and improving movement deficiencies, developing the basic motor skills to allow for improved body control, working on skills, developing speed, power, strength, agility, work capacity, and progressing towards more competition.
The problem with the extensive knowledge of what LTAD takes to accomplish, is that it may come at a point too late in history for it to really get us ahead: improving performance and reducing injury.
Reflecting back on my younger (in age) years, a typical day would be biking/walking/running to school early enough to play football or whatever other necessarily rough game we could think of, doing the same at recess (secretly tackling with vengeance when the supervisor turned their back to our game), playing some currently banned game utilizing hard rubber balls in gym class that could leave a mark for days, more tackle football at the 2nd recess if we were lucky, and it depended on the time of the year, but I remember playing more football after school in the hour or so we had prior to basketball practice. Along with the sporting side of things, we lived in a rural community and region, and we spent a good amount of the rest of our free time climbing trees, building tree forts, riding bikes, and even some not so approved of fun, but which still involved lots of physical movement. My friends and I never stopped moving except for the times we were forced to sit still in class, or going to bed.
This carried on up throughout our school years, albeit at less consistency (weird things happen as you get older, as energy just doesn’t stay quite as high for some reason). The progression through the middle school and high school years became more organized sports that changed as the seasons changed, although vigorous physical activity was happening year round, and all the time we were competing against one another. But even as things became more organized, we never were taught the things that are taught by LTAD experts: how to run properly, jump and land, squat, lunge, lift, brace. Sure we were taught to throw, but not by the standards of today’s throwing “experts”. But it didn’t matter; we still developed athletic, strong bodies. Many of us even ate like shit and that didn’t matter either, we weren’t obese.
Ultimately we PLAYED…. and thinking back, of those that were involved in the hours of play before, during, and after school, and the ones who stayed consistent throughout the upper grade years of multiple sports year round; none had an injury outside of the freak contact injury that is inevitable if you live the life of a normal, active human being. We didn’t get hurt, and many of us still play quite vigorously still with very few aches or pains.
Many of us were also fortunate to go on to play collegiate athletics in some way shape or form. Looking back, as the smaller school that we were, per capita, we were athletically very successful both in performance and relatively little injury, as was the same for many of neighboring schools we competed against… all minus any long-term athletic development conducted by performance experts.
Had we had the type of physical education program I am espousing, filled with the full progression of skill theme development that makes up part of the LTAD process, might have we been better? I do not know. But today’s progress in knowledge and understanding is being paralleled by, very simply, a lack of free play. The sporting legends of today and yesterday were not made by a LTAD program or outstanding P.E. programs, they were made on the playgrounds, in the streets, out in nature, on a child’s own free time: mimicking their peers and idols, and competing daily.
So a well thought out and applied LTAD program might give us a plus one, but presented on a culture and society that is sitting at a minus one gives us what? Zero.
So what am I espousing? I really don’t know, but good performance and staying injury free doesn’t necessarily come from a coach or program, nor can it; although they can help... if things are done very well. Miracles don’t occur from a few hours of “training” per week. The majority of it comes from physical use day in, day out… hours upon hours; free play, what kids used to do at the parks, playgrounds, backyards, and in the woods. Just as play readies children socially, emotionally, and intellectually, it prepares their bodies for increasingly challenging demands. Injury reduction and performance enhancement start young, and under the guidance of the children themselves given time in the right environment.
If at some point, we get to “Utopia”, hopefully today’s model of athletic/physical development will be applied on the lifestyle of yesteryears. We need both: sound physical education and lots of free play. I think it can be done, but it’s going to take a lot to wake up from the sedentary slumber we find ourselves in. If we can see that we are built to move and can put it into action, then I really believe we have taken a giant step forward towards advanced (or restored) consciousness.