I have been a fitness professional for 25 years, but first, I am a parent of a high school and collegiate athlete. My son and daughter have been playing basketball since they were very young and have endured a multitude of overuse injuries. I have had the opportunity to watch many coaching styles from elementary through collegiate, as well as Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and private coaching.

As a parent, I find myself in a difficult position; if I make a "strong" suggestion to the coach or, prohibit my daughter from participating in the biomechanically incorrect and age/condition inappropriate strength training program, then my daughter will be benched. This is the politics of sport. I have therefore taken it upon myself to educate the team parents and work with the girls, off the court, to improve their balance, flexibility and biomechanics; aspects that are tragically overlooked by many coaches.

First, each season should begin with a comprehensive evaluation of muscle balance and range of motion for each athlete. If muscles are not functioning properly, resulting in faulty movement patterns and biomechanics, there will be a much higher prevalence of injury. An athlete's training program should be designed to meet both short- and long-term goals. The variables include: how long each phase will take, how often will it change, and what specific exercises will be utilized at each phase. According to National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), an athlete’s program should first be organized into an annual plan, and then broken down into a monthly plan. Each monthly plan will be broken into weekly plans. This form of training periodization allows for maximal levels of adaptation while minimizing the risk of injury.

The first phase of training should be focused on stabilization. Phase two is for developing strength. Phase three will focus on maximal muscle growth (hypertrophy) through high levels of volume with minimal rest periods. Phase four focuses on increasing the load placed upon the tissues of the body and improves recruitment of more motor unites, rate of force production, and motor unit synchronization. Phase five focuses on power and increasing the rate of force production (speed of muscle contraction).

You’ll want to educate parents of athletes that, when executed properly, this type of training can prevent the following injuries that are often associated with improper training. This will give a simple overview of the most common injuries and risks to discuss.

Foot - Populations that are at a higher risk for these injuries include over ground runners, females, and those with a higher body mass index (BMI). Jumping and running with poor form (biomechanics), overuse, poorly fitted shoes, and eccentric loading are all risk factors for Achilles tendonitis. In addition, cold weather, previous injury, age and male gender may further increase the risk.

Knee - One of the most common causes of patellofemoral syndrome and ACL injury is abnormal tracking of the patella (knee cap), that puts undo stress on the patellar cartilage. Abnormal tracking may be the result of lower extremity malalignment, altered muscle activation surrounding the knee musculature, decreased strength of the hip musculature, or any combination.

Back - Athletes who suffer one low back injury are significantly more likely to suffer another and may be predisposed to future osteoarthritis and long-term disability. Studies have shown that the most effective exercise programs for decreasing back and improving function include abdominal and core exercises as well as stretching and strengthening exercises. A comprehensive program will help to improve neuromuscular control and flexibility while creating equilibrium between tight/overactive muscles and weak/inhibited muscles.

Shoulder - Rotator cuff injuries such as tendonitis, sprains, and ruptures account for approximately 75-80% of shoulder injuries. These injuries affect the shoulder’s ability to facilitate function of the upper extremity in performing tasks that involve reaching forward or overhead. Repetitive overhead motions that are required in many sports can lead to inflammation and irritation and, in turn, cause muscular inefficiency of the rotator cuff muscles.

As trainers, we are all looking for new ways to increase and maintain our client base. As a parent, I know that I will spend money on my children; especially if it leads to a full-ride! This presents an amazing opportunity for fitness professionals interested in working with young athletes. By incorporating some/all of the following information into your marketing materials and conversations, you will be able to educate the general public about the potential risk of injury in young athletes while simultaneously offering your services.

For further injury prevention information for youth athletes, read more at www.fit-pro.com.

Andrea Leonard is the President and Founder of the Cancer Exercise Training Institute and a pioneer in the field of exercise oncology. She received her BA from the University of Maryland and has been certified as a Personal Trainer, Corrective Exercise Specialist, Special Populations Expert, and Performance Enhancement Specialist. Since 1996, Andrea has written fourteen books on exercise for cancer survivors, produced countless videos, and has trained thousands of fitness professionals worldwide to become Cancer Exercise Specialists. www.thecancerspecialist.com

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