Words Matter: Why Coaches Have a Unique Position In Return to Sport After Injury. By Brett Poniros

“Brett Poniros is a Performance Coach at Athletes Warehouse. He was an NCAA Baseball player for Franklin and Marshall College. He is currently studying at the University of Bridgeport School of Chiropractic. In this article he talks about his unique outlook on how to work with an athlete who is returning to sport after an injury.”

Strength coaches have this incredible role to bridge the gap between the rehabilitation facility and the playing field. It is far too often that we see athletes leaving rehab and being sent back onto the field without having addressed many important foundations of sport. They leave being structurally sound, however not prepared for the physical or psychological demands to return to the playing field.

It is hard to deny that compared to rehab offices, a strength and conditioning facility simply offers a different environment that is critically important for an athlete when they are transitioning back to sport. The majority of rehab offices fail to provide an environment that mirror the energy of sport leaving an emotional gap in an athlete’s return to play. Physical injuries can often impact athletes on a psychological level as they can threaten the identity of being an athlete. There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty with an injury as it can endanger the longevity and future of an athlete’s career. Contrary to the typical rehab facility we work to create an environment that is focused on them as an athlete and not centered around the diagnosis that they were given.

At Athletes Warehouse we have a very unique way of communicating with our athletes who are returning to their sport after an injury. Words matter, and that’s the bottom line. Your choice of words as a coach can not only set the mindset of a training session, but can alter the way in which an athlete perceives their injury. We’ve observed athletes who have a more positive outlook on their pain and injury have a more rapid and successful return to sport. This becomes tough for our coaches, because we will not be the first person to make contact with the athlete after an injury or surgery. An athlete’s athletic trainer, MD, PT, DC, DO, etc. will be the person who sets the tone for their recovery process, and while understanding the pathophysiology of an injury is the most important step toward diagnosis and treatment plan, poor communication strategies during this process can often set a threatening outlook on the athlete’s path to recovery. Hearing terms like, “there may be a tear”, “you won’t be able to play this season,” or “you probably shouldn’t perform _________ activity for a couple of months,” while accurate in some sense, can be traumatizing to the athlete. During the return to play process, our coaches communicate with athletes in a way that eliminates the idea of “cannot” and “should not”. While we remain honest with our athletes, we utilize different language. Rather than saying “you can’t do a box jump with your knee right now,” we’d say “we’re utilizing a controlled landing drill in order to progress you to a box jump”. This projects the future as positive and progressive rather than threatening and degenerative.

The return to play process is complex beyond structure and function. As a coach we are accounting for physical and psychological variables that can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. At the end of the day energy and emotions play an integral role in preparing an athlete to return to the field. The combination of the right professional and the right facility can change the way that we bring athletes back from injury.

Teaching Agility and Game Speed

Game speed is an abstract concept. Sometimes athletes who are slow on the track appear as though they have a totally different gear on the field. For a long time, coaches struggled with this concept. They would often say, “That kid just has that type of speed you can’t teach,” or “That’s natural born speed.” But what is it about these athletes that makes them appear so fast on the field, when on a timer they are not nearly as impressive? This type of speed is called agility, and it is something that has been attempted to be taught through the use of speed ladders and complicated rhythmic drills. In Athletes Warehouse, we have the answer to unlocking agility, and it is no longer something that can’t be taught.

Agility is the ability to accelerate, decelerate, and change direction in any combination. However, we have found the number one determinant of agility to be reactive ability. This can explain how someone is able to continually gain a step on a defender who has faster acceleration times on the track. Once we determined that reaction determines agility, agility in game speed no longer becomes a skill that can’t be taught. In fact it can be taught very easily to athletes who are exposed to a specific training progression at a young age.

Agility drills that require the athlete to memorize and in-grain patterns into their memory fail to transfer to the requirements of sport. For example, if I’m a lacrosse defender and an offensive player is attempting to go 1-on-1 with me to the goal, there is no time for my mind to operate in a rhythmic order like a speed ladder drill. My subconscious mind is going act on the first hint of body language the offensive player gives away. Sports are chaotic, and therefore there are moments when we must train in chaos.

When we look at sports in terms of reaction to chaos, we realize how simple it can be to mirror this in training. No athlete should be in an agility drill by themselves because no athlete is on the field by themselves. Every action performed on a field is in response to another person. Utilizing a partner in our agility drills allows our athletes to accumulate repetitions reading another person’s body language. Even the best athletes will naturally express body language that will expose the direction they intend to move. When we progress athletes through a series of reactive agility drills they begin to become more efficient at reading their opponents.

Best Exercise to Improve Sprint Times

As coaches, we are constantly formulating and implementing new drills and exercises in an effort to increase the speed potential of our athletes. New and creative exercises expose our athletes to a broad range of movement patterns. This is important for overall athletic development. However, no matter the age, experience level, or sport, we are continually implementing sled pulling into our programs as we have found it to be one of the most powerful exercises in increasing sprint speed. It has become a requirement of our programs for those who are looking to increase speed.

Upon implementing our sled program, we have seen athletes show improvements in 20 yard and 40 yard dash times by up to 1/4 of a second in as little as 5 sessions. This is a drastic increase in speed. We have taken countless athletes through this protocol and have found these results to be consistent no matter how long the athlete has been training. As our program adjusts for age and body weight of the athlete, it can be completed by an athlete of any age or training status.

The sled works in a very unique way to strengthen musculature necessary for sprint. It is the most effective tool we utilize to improve backside drive as well as hip and posterior chain strength. It is a unique apparatus as the resistance never leaves the ground, and therefore becomes one of the safest exercises that a young athlete can do. When they are fatigued or their technique breaks down, the sled simply stops moving and there is no worry about an external load on the athlete.

If you are an athlete looking to developing speed in a completely unique way, reach out to our front desk by contacting team@athleteswarehouse.com. Our team of coaches is excited to share our secrets of speed with you.

Pain Management Guide For Athletes: By Coach Matt June

Coach Matt was a multisport athlete at Colonie High School in Albany, NY. He played Football, Basketball, Track, and Baseball. In college Matt studied Kinesiology and played second base for SUNY Cortland. He was a four year starter and two time captain.  He has some really good insight into pain management as an athlete. In this article goes into detail on how he believes there is a difference between discomfort and injury. Coach Matt states how discomfort is a part of sport and if he only participated when he felt 100%, he would have missed out on many opportunities to play.

The science of pain is not entirely understood. Regardless of how much research is done in the area, we’ve had trouble quantifying pain as something that is consistent across the human population. While pain manifests itself in the physical body, no two people experience it in the same way. This leads professionals to believe that much of pain management is associated with the mind. This is a theory that could potentially explain why some people experience identical dysfunction in completely different ways; and why some people may be able to play through certain discomfort that others can not.

Looking back, I have a very unique perspective on playing through some of my injuries. If I knew what I knew then… what I know now… I may not have played through certain things. However, being raised the way I was, pain was never automatically perceived as a threat. Growing up I was taught that pain was a part of sport. It was certainly not glorified, but it was simply part of the game. Only 2% of all college students have the opportunity to call themselves an NCAA athlete. Along with much of the hard work and time necessary to developing skills, often times one must pay the price of being in pain to consider themselves an athlete. As an athlete, as far as I was concerned pain is just part of the game.

Understanding the difference between discomfort and injury is a very important tool I used throughout my career. As a coach, I am a witness to a lot of athletes who are very quick to perceive their pain as an injury. We play sports in an era where athletes have tremendous ease of access to imaging technology, and therefore have a heightened focus on their internal structures which can create heightened symptomatology. No matter the athlete, we all have some degree of internal fear of injury. We identify with our sports and even just the fear of losing it due to injury can be debilitating in itself. In my experience, sometimes the more you know, the worse your symptoms. In college I remember having a relatively painful groin pull. While it was definitely a nagging injury, my approach was taking it day to day, rather than rushing to seek an immediate conclusion. If I only took the field when I was feeling 100%, I would never had the opportunity to play.

My advice to athletes is to always have the right healthcare resources available, however don’t be so quick to perceive your discomfort as an injury. Pain is a part of sports. It is incredibly important to check in with your body often, observing how you feel on a day to day basis. Understand that sports are taxing on the human body and each day you may feel different, but don’t be quick to judge it as an injury. At the beginning of the season you may feel 100%. It is very important to not believe this will be the case for the remainder of the season and therefore, check into your body regularly.