Talking About Injury Management in Junior Sport

Picture this:

12 year old Jacob – a silkily skilled AFL footballer – darts through a pack of boys all larger than him, delivering a grass-cutting pass that hits his leading full forward lace-out, and the forward marks the ball without breaking stride.  A fraction of a second later, Jacob is crunched heavily by a boy whose physique and visible facial hair make him appear closer to 21 than 12.  The smaller boy attempts to pick himself up, clambering first to all-4s, and then wobbling up to stand with hands on thighs, forcing himself to calm his breathing and fight back the tears that are threatening to make an appearance.

You’re the volunteer first-aider for this community side and you now have to run out and provide whatever assistance you can to this courageous little warrior.  What do you do?  Could Jacob be concussed?  He’s certainly not putting much weight through that left leg – could that be injured?  Why did you volunteer for this gig?  It wasn’t supposed to be this tricky!!!  But you run out anyway, to provide what care you can, because without volunteers like you – these injured kids would be almost all alone.

This is a scene that plays out across our sporting nation every weekend, and on most weekdays too – across AFL, soccer, basketball, netball, union, league, lacrosse, and an unnamed multitude of other sports.  Every sport has its injuries, and every community club has a number of volunteers without whom the opportunities for our kids would be severely limited. 

One of the most important roles in community sporting clubs, particularly in the contact sports, is our army of volunteer first aiders.  Without them, more of our kids would get injured, their injuries would be worse, and they would take longer to recover, potentially never returning to 100%.  The cost of this isn’t just about one kid missing out on some playing time, but can potentially cause parents to make the decision to avoid these sports for their children all together.  Imagine if this reduced player pool meant we never got to see Judd or Rioli, Ablett or Naitinui!

Appreciating these very important factors, as well as being a determined and active supporter of all junior sport, Empower Physiotherapy recently conducted its third annual Injury Management seminar for the Kingsley Junior Football Club. 

On a pleasant Wednesday night on the 4th of May, some 25 attendees (mostly from the KJFC) arrived at Empower Physiotherapy’s Rehabilitation Gym to be taken through a seminar covering several important topics, including concussion, acute injury management, the importance of implementing exercise programs to prevent injury and enhance performance, and a practical component where participants were able to practice their taping skills for use on and off the field.

On hand to provide the information were Physiotherapists Erin Diamond, Genevieve Ehlers, and myself (Jason Power), with David Seneque briefly coming in to say hi between patients.  Though our attendees pretended to be shy initially, that didn’t last long, and the group were soon keenly prying every little bit of information they could out of the professionals.

Erin, who has many years’ experience as physiotherapist for the East Perth colts side, and also as a physiotherapist for the Perth Heat, began the session with a discussion around concussion – what it is, how to recognise it, and how to manage it.  Once again, the long term implications of poorly identified or poorly managed concussions was stressed, and what was extremely pleasing was that many of those in attendance already had a fairly good grasp on the subject.  The take-away sentiment from this section:

“If in doubt – sit them out!”

Next up was Genevieve Ehlers, who presented a broad ranging talk covering what different soft tissues in the body referred to, how they could be injured, and how best to manage them.  Many of our volunteers had a good understanding of the RICER (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, and Referral) acronym, with the physios discussing their preference for the POLICE (Protect, Optimise Load, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) acronym.  Attendees were able to provide specific examples and receive feedback regarding what the physiotherapists would do with specific injuries.

The old man of the practice (that would be me) then presented the PEP (Prevent Injury, Enhance Performance) Program, a researched exercise program that has been shown to significantly reduce the incidence of ACL injuries when teams that carried out the program were compared to those that undertook their normal warm up and training routine.

In contrast to most traditional warm-ups, the PEP Program aims to prepare, engage, and improve the entire neuromuscular system.  My plan for this year is to utilise a variant of this program with the State U12 AFL team that I am involved with, and we would urge any sporting club to have a look at how their own programs compare to the PEP program, which consists of 5 components:

  1. Warm Up/Avoidance
  2. Flexibility/Stretching
  3. Strengthening
  4. Plyometrics
  5. Agility Drills

These activities take approximately 15 minutes to complete, and are recommended to be conducted 2-3 times per week.  Empower’s view is that with appropriate modification, the PEP Program can itself replace less effective warm up protocols.

After encouraging (read: blackmailing) several volunteers to demonstrate each activity, it was then Erin’s turn once again to take the crowd through some basic taping protocols – with participants taping ankles, shoulders and fingers, and taking the opportunity for some 1:1 discussions with each of the physios.

With only a few stubborn hair follicles harmed in the presentation of the seminar, KJFC and Empower Physiotherapy wrapped up another session of free sharing of knowledge to help optimise the sporting opportunities for our kids and communities.  Participants were advised that if they hadn’t already discovered it, Empower Physiotherapy is a clinic that is happy to actually get involved with its sponsored clubs and athletes, and the first-aiders were encouraged to feel free to contact physios directly if they had any queries or concerns during the season.  

If you belong to a local community sporting club of any code, and think that your players, parents and volunteers could use some professional input from Empower Physiotherapy, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

“The ongoing support of Empower over a number of years has really helped lift the standard of our first aid volunteers by providing targeted training to AFL injuries beyond what is learnt in generalist first aid courses. The players, volunteers and committee are grateful for their ongoing support.”  

Hamish Borthen, KJFC VP Football Affairs.

Until next time – keep moving!