They might be smaller, but don’t be fooled: children’s sports injuries are deadly serious, particularly in team sports. For example, did you know that underage footballers are more likely to contract bone fractures and injuries of the upper extremities than their adult counterparts?
Call it a lack of technique, or the fact that their bones are still developing, or a willingness to chase the ball and get stuck into tackles – or, more likely, a combination of all three – but injuries in youth sports are a serious concern. So it was good to hear some heartening news last month from the University of Basel.
According to a study conducted by that university’s Department of Sport, Exercise and Health and published in the academic journal Sports Medicine, a warm-up programme developed specially for children can reduce football knee injuries by around 50 per cent.
The twenty-minute rule
The study – which involved the monitoring of 3,900 players from 243 teams based in Switzerland, Germany, Holland and the Czech Republic – involved dividing the teams into a control group who went about their normal business, and an intervention group who adopted the ‘11+ Kids’ programme – a twenty-minute regime of seven warm-up exercises which were undertaken before every training session.
After just one season, the results were clear for all to see: the injury rate of intervention group was 48 per cent lower than the control group, while the rate of severe injury fell by as much as 74 per cent. The people behind the study are now recommending that all youth footballers should be adhering to a warm-up programme at least once – and preferably twice – a week.
Why would a selection of simple exercises cause such a change in the football knee injuries rate? There a clue in the name. By keeping the muscles warm, athletes of all sporting disciplines can nip a lot of potential problems in the bud. A warm-up session can prevent acute maladies such as hamstring strains and other overuse injuries, and steadily and safely prepare the body for a session of intense activity. As well as preparing the body, a proper warm-up session also focuses the mind, helping the athlete to get in the zone and concentrate fully.
Rugby got there first
As someone who is very much involved in the RFU, I also have to say that it’s good to see the round-ball game taking note of what the rugby community cottoned onto long ago: our injury prevention programme Activate sought to address the injury problem in our own sport, and came to the same conclusion – that player-conditioning was a key solution to bring down the injury rate in youth and adult rugby.
The programme has proven to be a resounding success: amongst youth players, teams who were highly compliant with the Activate regime achieved a 72 per cent reduction in overall match injuries, while the adult teams achieved a 40 per cent reduction in lower injuries – while both groups achieved a 59 per cent reduction in concussions. So it’s clear that in both codes, it makes sense to take time to warm up.