Preparing for a safe return to Fall sports:
MaineGeneral's athletic trainers offer tips for athletes
The recipe for area student athletes to have a successful start to the sports season has only a few key ingredients – physical activity, rest, hydration, proper nutrition and effective, beneficial stretching.
Following this recipe will greatly reduce overuse and other injuries that can arise from a lack of conditioning and proper self-care, as a very active preseason training schedule pushes athletes to their limits, say Steve Tosi, ATC, and Pat Norwood, ATC, members of MaineGeneral Sports Medicine’s expert team of athletic trainers who provide services throughout the Kennebec Valley and beyond.
“The fall season starts on August 16, so athletes should be doing some form of physical activity to get themselves ready,” says Tosi, the athletic trainer at Lawrence High School and Middle School, who has provided care to area athletes for nearly 30 years. “They also need to start acclimating themselves to the weather conditions. They should be exercising some in the heat – maybe 15 to 20 minutes – to get used to it before preseason starts.”
Norwood, the athletic trainer for students at Maranacook Community High School and Middle School, adds that in addition to general conditioning, athletes should include some activity that’s specific to the sport they play.
“If your sport is cross country, you should get on the road or trails for your aerobic activities and start the first few days at 60 percent intensity. If you play soccer, start doing soccer drills along with some light jogging, but staying in that 60 percent range,” says Norwood, who has been part of the Sports Medicine team since 2014.
“After a few days, then start anaerobic activity, things like sprinting at about 70 to 80 percent. You want to ramp up your activity but also acclimate to the summer heat,” he adds.
Proper nutrition and hydration
To perform well athletically, students need to fuel themselves properly, Tosi says. This is particularly important during the increased activity that preseason practices bring.
“They shouldn’t be stopping for a fast-food meal on a regular basis or eating junk food. They should be eating protein, fruits and vegetables and things like healthy sandwiches,” he says. “When you’re 16 years old, you can eat fast food a lot easier, but it will break you down as the season gets going.”
Adequate hydration is also critical to prevent heat-related and other injuries.
“Dehydration happens over several days,” Tosi says. “Athletes should work on getting more water into their system to prepare for the increased physical activity they’ll have. And once preseason starts, they should be even more focused on hydration. If you’re not properly hydrated and you’re practicing for two to three hours, you can have some type of heat-related illness, which can create an emergency situation.”
“They really should be hydrating 24 to 48 hours before a practice or game. So if they have a practice on Monday, they need to start hydrating on Saturday and through Sunday. Hydrating the day of a practice really isn’t going to do much until the next day,” he says.
Getting adequate rest
Tosi and Norwood agree that a key to keeping young athletes healthy is ensuring they have adequate rest, but they acknowledge this can be a challenge for those who participate in multiple sports and activities while carrying a heavy academic course load.
“Many kids who play two or three sports seasons in a year are educationally sound but, because of that, they’re staying up late and studying well into the night,” Tosi says, “so they’re getting four or five hours of sleep nightly…and teenagers should be getting eight hours of sleep a night or more.”
Working to avoid common early season injuries
Tosi and Norwood say they treat much of the same types of injuries at the start of a sports season, many of which can be avoided or minimized with proper conditioning and rest.
“The most common are those from being out of shape, things like muscle and tendon strains. If athletes do some activity before preseason, 30 to 60 minutes a day, they’re going to reduce the risk of having some of those injuries,” Tosi says.
In athletes who play soccer, Norwood says he sees many hip flexor, hamstring and quadriceps strains “because it’s such a lower-extremity-dominant sport and those muscles are used so much.”
To combat this, he educates athletes on proper stretching and encourages them to make it a priority throughout the season.
“I tell them to see me if they start to have some soreness so I can help them with some static and dynamic stretching,” he says. “The amount of stretching they should be doing can’t be fit into one practice session. The coach’s job is to get them conditioned and ready to play; they need to do the stretching on their own – before practice, after practice and during double sessions as well.”
Staying safe in a COVID-19 world
In light of the continuing presence of COVID-19 and the threat of increased illness in the community, Tosi and Norwood urge athletes, parents and coaches to remain focused on doing the necessary work to keep themselves and others safe.
“The coaches I work with are more cautious about things,” Tosi says. “They understand there are certain things they have to do – masking and social distancing while they’re in the gym or practicing on the field – to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
“We have to be vigilant about being safe and taking care of ourselves,” he adds. “You can’t see the invisible enemy, but if you’re smart about doing the things you’re supposed to do, hopefully you’ll get through it and not be bothered by the effects of the virus.”
Visit the MaineGeneral Sports Medicine page to learn more about the team and the athletic training services they provide.