Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sport Provides Platform for Leadership...

Last week I wrote about the need for women to step forward and lead the next generation by example.  I think this leadership is so crucial because young girls have a false sense of health that is perpetuated by the popular media and celebrities; being ultra thin is cool and glamorous.  Moms, older sisters and senior teammates I believe can play a huge role in the redefinition of what a healthy body image is and should be for young girls.

So I wanted to take some time this week to highlight a woman who is taking a leading role in a culture dominated by men.

Last August I meet Sue Falsone at a youth fitness seminar in Louisville, Kentucky.  Sue is a board certified clinical specialist in sports physical therapy (SCS); a certified athletic trainer (ATC); a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and at that time was a consultant with the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.  *

This past December Sue became the first female to hold the position of head athletic trainer in any of the four major sports (baseball, football, basketball, hockey) when the Dodgers appointed her to the post.

She's become a role model to schoolgirls who email or post on Facebook that they want to be just like her when they grow up.

Sue is considered one of the best physical therapists in the business regardless of gender.  She has earned this distinction because of her insane work ethic and dedication to learning and applying her craft.  I would also like to add that she is extremely brave because the world of professional baseball can be very territorial and cruel to the uninitiated.  However, Sue has won over the players and staff with her knowledge and professionalism.

While Sue serves as a tremendous role model for young women her training philosophy is also rock solid:

"Our approach is to bridge the gap from rehab to performance," she said. "Ten years ago, if your shoulder hurt, we treated the shoulder pain. Now we know the pain is in the shoulder, but the cause could be somewhere very different. We want to know why the pain is happening, and there should be a biomechanical reason. Somebody has knee pain; it might be because of an ankle or hip. There definitely is a paradigm shift to looking at the person as a whole and get the body as a whole to work optimally."

Over the last teen years of coaching young people one thing that stands out is the number of injuries that are occurring that I believe are directly related to lifestyle and training habits.  Specifically, kids sit for long periods of time (school, computer time, texting, etc.) in a slumped and rounded position.   Throw on top of that the relatively modern practice of sport specialization and pro-athlete like training programs.  Kids are breaking down prematurely because of these interrelated factors.  Due to muscle/bony adaptations from excessive sitting their still growing and developing bodies simply cannot tolerate the demands of sport, injury and pain can be a likely result.  This is not just my opinion but one Sue talked about when I meet her last August.

Her top 4 considerations for developing young athletes:
1.     Posture
2.     Prevention of Thoracic Spine Mobility Issues
3.     Moving Through the Hips
4.     Foot Health

I have written extensively on each of these topics in the past but I will provide a quick review.

Ideal posture allows the body to work efficiently and provides the foundation for balanced muscle activation.  Posture is a key defense against joint pain and muscle imbalances.

The thoracic spine is essentially the area of the spine located just above the shoulder blades and ends just above the lowest rib.  Rounded back postures tend to lock this area down and forces excessive movement in other areas such as the lower back and/or neck.  Also poor T-spine mobility puts the shoulder of throwing athletes at greater risk of injury.  It can also restrict breathing because of the pressure it creates on the diaphragm.  So if you are a runner and you find yourself winded easily it could be due to poor T-spine mobility.

Most adolescent athletes move through their knees too much.  This is likely an accommodation due to weak backside muscles and tight hip flexors.  Sitting for long periods of time directly feeds both of these issues (weak gluteus and short/stiff hips).  Training programs should focus on proper squatting technique, which should be driving the movement with their hips rather than the knees.  Working on flexibility at the thigh and hip is also important.

Kids feet are usually locked up in shoes all day and this weakens the small but still very important muscles of the feet.  These muscles are key in providing feedback for balance and split second adjustments that need to be made instinctively.  Walking in shoes all day makes the feet “lazy” and their function becomes dulled or delayed.  Flat feet and poor toe separation are also side effects that can lead to pain and muscle imbalances.  Walking around the house barefoot is a good place to start as is investing in a pair of minimalist shoes for daily non-sport use.  Crocs, flip-flops and Ugs are terrible for still developing feet.

These types of things don’t sound all that “exciting” as it relates to athletic development but the most important aspect of any training program is to keep the athlete on the field of play and out of the trainer’s room.  More time on the field of play allows for more time dedicated to refining skill and technique that can only be attained through experience.

With the increased rate of sport participation generally and the one-sport athlete specifically, it will become more important that ever to dedicate a large portion of off-field training to maintaining basic fundamental movement patterns.  Children don’t “play” as much as they used to and that’s where many of these fundamental patterns are learned and refined.  Getting back to the basics is a key component for developing the athlete of this generation and up and coming professionals like Sue Falsone understand this and are ready to show the way.


While I am on the topic of pro baseball I thought I’d share a story about a man that refuses to listen to the critics and even father time.

Jamie Moyer made his Major League Baseball debut in June 1986 and after missing all of last season with an injury he attempted a comeback with the Colorado Rockies.  Moyer made the team and started a game last week at the age of 49!  Moyer is not overly impressive from a physical standpoint at 6 feet tall and 180 pounds with a fastball that struggles to break 80 MPH (league avg.  90-92).  But Moyer has survived because he mastered the skill and art of pitching.  The amazing part of his story is that since he was a kid he was discouraged every step of the way because he didn’t throw hard enough.  And yet he persisted and made it to the big leagues because he believed in himself and he put the work in to master his craft.  The critics can be loud and annoying but they don’t matter!  The voice you hear everyday inside of you is the one that determines the direction your life takes.  That’s not even the best part of Moyer’s story.  He was so determined to make it back to pro-baseball because it provides a bigger platform to spread the word for his charity work dedicated to helping children in distress.  Now that is a true champion in the game of life, the only game that counts!


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