Why college coaches are seeing more high school football injuries

An increase in poor blocking technique at the high school level is causing more shoulder injuries, decreasing young players’ chances to play at the college level, believes Northwestern University football coach Pat Fitzgerald. At a 2015 pre-season press conference, Fitzgerald explained how this phenomenon was affecting NU’s program.

“…we're seeing a lot more shoulder injuries coming out of high school than there has ever been. And that's because the game used to be done like this [puts his forearms out in front of his chest] and it's now like that [extends his arms so his hands are wider than his shoulders]. Kids are playing with their arms out here, and now they're blowing their labrums out."*

Fitzgerald went to say that overtraining by high school football players also increases their risk for soft-tissue injuries. Because of the types of injuries Northwestern coaches are seeing, the program has increased the amount of strength training for players to help with injury prevention.

According to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s Stop Sports Injuries website, “Shoulder injuries are … quite common and the labrum (cartilage bumper surrounding the socket part of the shoulder) is particularly susceptible to injury, especially in offensive and defensive linemen.”

*Reported by Henry Bushnell for InsideNU.com

Demonstrate correct and incorrect techniques

Make sure your child knows the proper technique for using his hands and arms when blocking to reduce the risk of injury. It’s important to not only show him the correct technique, but also the wrong hand and arm placements. This will let him feel the effects of incorrect technique. It will also make it obvious when he’s blocking incorrectly. If you don’t demonstrate the wrong technique any time you teach a new skill, you decrease the chance your child will be able to spot it on his own when he’s doing it.

Include the right conditioning

Work with a certified strength and conditioning coach to develop a conditioning program to strengthen the shoulder area. This doesn’t mean your child has to bench press hundreds of pounds. Using dumbbells, resistance bands and bodyweight exercises (such as pull-ups, chin-ups and push-ups), your child can strengthen the area around the shoulder, as well as the other muscles used for blocking, which can take pressure off the shoulder during blocks.

Teach kids to speak up

When kids are injured, they might not want to tell their coaches because they’re worried about losing their starting spots or playing time. Talk with your child about the importance of immediately alerting you or a coach to any aches or pains that last more than a day. This could be a sign of a repetitive stress injury that’s starting. If your child alerts someone about the pain, he might be able to eliminate the problem with a technique change or better conditioning. If the injury is more serious, such as a muscle or ligament tear, he can then take steps, including taking a rest, to avoid long-term or permanent damage that can end a season or career.

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RELATED: The dangers of overtraining young athletes

Steve Milano

Steve Milano has been writing and lecturing on youth sports for more than 25 years. He ... View Full Bio

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