How to Reduce Basketball Injuries

I love the English language and have always been fascinated by words. While I'm a basketball strength and conditioning coach by vocation, writing and public speaking are two of the mediums I use to disseminate my message of safe, purposeful, and innovative training techniques and concepts all over the world. So I put tremendous thought into the words I use.

With that said, I often make the mistake of using the phrase "injury prevention" when describing the benefits of proper training. The very first thing I was taught as a rookie was that "injury prevention" was the primary reason players should participate in a year-round training program.

But that statement is incorrect.

Why?

You can't prevent injuries. But you can take steps to reduce injuries. You can reduce their occurrence and/or their severity. And that is the primary reason players should strength train and condition: "injury reduction." Reducing occurrence and severity of injuries is the foundation of why I do what I do.

If you think injuries can be prevented completely—I suggest you have coffee with Yao Ming. He had 24-7 access to the best training and medical resources that money can buy, and both saw their potential Hall-of-Fame careers ended abruptly and prematurely. And that's just one guy...you can add countless others to the list.

Why do I bring this up now?

Last year at DeMatha, we were fortunate not to miss one minute of game time the entire season from the types of injuries we worked to reduce (ankles, groin, knees, lower back, etc.). We did miss limited time from stitches, a broken nose, and a few concussions—but those were combative and contact injuries that can't be addressed through training.

Last week we had two players suffer injuries to their lower extremities. One suffered a severely bruised heel (also a combative and contact injury) from an awkward landing. The other player partially tore ligaments in his foot after stepping on a teammate when going after a loose ball. Fortunately, neither is expected to be out very long (the player with the torn ligaments will be in a customized walking boot for a week or two).

I work on my craft relentlessly and aim to improve every day as a coach. An integral part of that process is constant self-evaluation. As soon as I got the full diagnosis from our head athletic trainer, I went back through my notes from the fall to make sure I didn't miss anything. I double checked to make sure I did everything I could have done in my programming to avoid that foot injury from happening.

And I did.

I can say with full confidence, my pre-season program was very comprehensive. I wouldn't change a thing. We emphasized strength and mobility work for the ankles/feet at every workout and we did on-court drills for acceleration/deceleration, jumping/landing, and pivoting/cutting.

While the thought of one my players being injured makes me (literally) sick to my stomach, I realize that unfortunately injuries still happen. The player who injured his foot had perfect attendance this fall and was one of our weight room leaders (regarding perfect form, focus, and effort).

So instead of dwelling on the negative, I have taken the opposite stance. Had he not laid such a solid foundation during the pre-season, his particular injury would have been much worse. Instead of being back in 1-2 weeks, it may have taken months... if he had weak feet or immobile ankles. So to the casual observant, they may think our program didn't work. But as a veteran in this business, I see the program, including this injury, as a success.

One of the most fascinating parts about sports, is that most people only get to see is the finished product. They aren't privy to what goes on behind the scenes.

Same is true for injuries. When a player gets injured, all we see is the result. What we don't see are the myriad of things that may have contributed:

  • Muscle imbalances
  • Poor posture or gait
  • Previous injury
  • Cumulative fatigue
  • Genetic variances

For example, our player with the foot issue has 'flat feet' (medical term for fallen arch in the foot), which can increase the risk of ankle and foot related injuries.

So what can you do as a player or coach?

For starters, I suggest you evaluate your current training program.

Are you taking every step possible to reduce the occurrence and severity of potential injuries?

  • Do you perform a thorough warm-up before every practice and game?
  • Do you perform basketball specific strength workouts with emphasis on ankles/feet, knees, hips/groin, lower back, and shoulders?
  • Do you perform drills that address proper footwork for acceleration/deceleration, jumping/landing, and pivoting/cutting?
  • Do you allow for proper rest and recovery to reduce cumulative mental and physical fatigue (rate of injury raises sharply when fatigued)?

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