Glenn Tucker | Saving our athletes
The national track and field trials are over. Despite a few creditable performances from Fraser-Price, Thompson and Jackson, I must confess to a serious degree of disappointment. Disappointment because some of the most talented juniors this country has ever produced were absent because of injuries. Disappointed because many of our athletes who showed up performed well below early expectations and were at varying stages of recovery from injuries.
First, let me address coaches. You are in charge. Why, may I ask, are so many athletes getting injured so often? The cause of injuries are – or should be – well known to any of this new breed of coaches who passed through formal training at places like G.C. Foster College.
Injuries mostly result from overtraining and not giving the body time and resources to recover. For example:
One week after sustaining an injury, soft tissues exhibit approximately three per cent of the pre-injury tensile strength (the resistance of a material to breaking under tension).
At three weeks – post trauma – soft tissues function at about 30 per cent of normal tensile strength.
Three months after injury, soft tissue healing has progressed to approximately 80 per cent of normal tensile strength. This healing cannot be rushed!
An athlete who goes back into competition loading tissues at 100 per cent of the normal demand, but whose tendons exhibit significantly less-than-normal tensile strength, will likely suffer breakdown due to overuse. Complete healing may take a year or more.
Ligaments connect bone to bone. Injury requires surgery and it takes time to heal. Tendons connect muscle to bone. They must glide smoothly and be of normal length. Sometimes even after healing, flaws are evident in these tissues. Of course, most sports injuries are in the muscles. After healing, the muscle and surrounding tissues are weak. Excessive loading at subpar strength, or for too long, will lead to more injury anywhere in the general area.
Why is it that I can sit at home in front of my TV and observe the altered mechanics in an athlete’s movement and tell that the athlete is not fully rehabilitated, and persons with a more intimate association fail to recognise this?
When I started a track and field programme at Holmwood, I had no interest in becoming a professional coach. At the time, it seemed to be the only opportunity for my brood, mostly from poor families, to access tertiary education. That was the objective. I get the impression that today it has become a business. And pride, ego, bank accounts and reputation are interfering with what it should be all about.
Why, in tarnation, are athletes turning out to perform at Champs with assorted tapes and bandages on their bodies? This suggests that they are in various stages of recovery from injury.
So why the hell are they performing? Coaches, ISSA, JAA. All of you stand there watching these beautiful talented children destroy themselves before they have a chance to benefit from their talent. In some cases, it is crystal-clear they have no other talent.
May I, respectfully, recommend the following: that athletes meet in classroom settings and a qualified person introduce them to their bodies, focusing on how body parts work, their limitations, warning signs, and the healing process.
All interested parties should sit in along with the athletes. The sessions should not be conducted by coaches.
To all those involved in this aspect of children’s lives, I implore you, think more of the person and a little less of the purse and the performance.
Glenn Tucker, MBA, is an educator and a sociologist. He is also a former coach at Holmwood Technical High School. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.