Tough break: Youth sports injuries |

Tough break: Youth sports injuries

Meet Robert Jones and Sue Morgan. Both were considered “star athletes” in high school but shared another trait in common besides their superb athletic performance.

Robert played football and had a history of hamstring pulls and low back pain that nearly ended his chance for a college scholarship. Sue, who played soccer and volleyball, had anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery twice in three years. Despite many seasons as top performers, both suffered repetitive injury and subpar performance before making it to college on athletic scholarships.

“When I was in high school, too many players including me simply threw another 45-pound plate onto the bar and called it sport’s training,” says Robert.

At both the college and professional levels this approach to athletic training is finally falling by the wayside as top strength coaches are implementing deficit reduction programs that seek to train the weakest links in an athlete’s body, usually around the hips, low back and shoulders, before focusing exclusively on strength and power workouts.

Despite having strong legs from thousands of heavy barbell squats, a simple muscle test determined that Robert’s hips and core muscles were relatively weak for the demands of his sport. This meant that his strong legs were overpowering the weaker muscles in his hips and low back. His hamstrings compensated for the weak muscles by becoming loaded and very tight in an effort to stabilize his legs and upper body.

His coaches focused solely on his tight hamstrings, prescribing various stretching routines which only added insult to injury instead of addressing the root of the problem, which stemmed for lack of adequate hip stabilization strength.

Once he got to college, it took most of his freshman year and several consultations from various sports performance experts before he had a solution to his problem. Once he strengthened his hip stabilizers and core, Robert played for three years at the college level without a single muscle pull.

As a 6-feet, 1-inch volleyball player, Sue was on track for a Division 1 scholarship. When Sue was 14 she tore her ACL playing competitive soccer and had surgery. After her second ACL tear during the summer of her junior year while playing in a tournament, she was forced to sit out most of the following season. Sue ended up playing one year at a local junior college before sitting out for the remainder of yet another season due to repeated injuries and declining performance.

“I kept having the knee fixed but no one ever addressed the root of the problem, the real reason my knee kept failing,” she says. “I became very frustrated and started doubting myself. I didn’t want to quit but I didn’t know what else to do. I kept getting inured and my performance was declining.”

Sue had lateral tracking issues with her knees. The surgeries repaired the damage but did nothing to solve her problem. She stopped playing and started a deficit reduction program that focused on strengthening her hips, low back and shoulders along with jump training designed to teach her “how to jump” but didn’t required any actual vertical jumping practice.

Her team lost seven out of eight games without her. Neither she, nor the team was happy about the situation. But she waited to come back, spending 5 months deficit training. Upon her return, she dominated the league playing injury free, with a new level of strength, skill and power. She accomplished all this and added 5 inches to her vertical jump with no performance strength training during those five months.

“It was the first time in six years that I played at a competitive level completely injury free,” she says. Sue received a full scholarship to a four-year school this fall.

Are you involved with youth athletics as a parent or coach? As part of our Play Strong, Play Healthy sport performance program, physical therapist John Seivert and I have been working with local coaches to implement injury prevention and deficit reduction programs for youth athletes ages 12-18. Our goal is to reduce noncontact injuries and help young athletes train smarter and perform better.

Head Baseball Coach Ted White at Nevada Union and Head Football Coach Scott Savoie at Bear River are both progressive, forward-thinking coaches who have already implemented some of these concepts with their teams.

If you are a parent or coach and would like to learn more about how this kind of training can benefit your athletes, contact me at As a community service, I will come out and run a deficit test and exercise program for your team – absolutely free.

Too many young athletes end up with over use injuries simply because they weren’t given a safe and effective training program that focused on strengthening the weakness in their kinetic chain. I want every kid to have a shot at a healthy and successful high school athletic experience.

Mike Carville is a NASM/RKC certified fitness trainer and co-owner of South Yuba Club in Nevada City ( and Monster Gym in Grass Valley ( He specializes in programming for new exercisers, weight loss/toning and athletic training. He is available for questions and speaking engagements via e-mail at:

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