23 February 2012

Injuries in young climbers - learn the hard way?

When it comes to injuries, the vast majority of sportspeople learn the hard way. They learn how to take care of their bodies by getting injured repeatedly and cursing their misfortune until sheer frustration prompts them to look more closely at what’s going on and realise there is something they can do about it.
For youngsters, it’s even harder. They aren’t so used to thinking strategically and anticipating problems as real athletes do. They just go at it with training as keenly as they like until something starts to hurt.
Complicating things further is that kids often do more than one sport. Multiple training programs, multiple coaches all working independently, not always with an eye on the total training load and hows it’s changing over time,or possible sites of stress on a joint or tendon becoming excessive. I was lucky in a way to have no coach rather than partial coaching. With my first finger and elbow injuries at age 16 I realised that noone but me was going to get me back to climbing quicker. So I found that university book stores were good places to find sports medicine books and huddled in their corners reading everything I could to while away the many hours and days of my lay-off. It was a good thing too. I suffered plenty of injuries, as you do if you push yourself hard in multiple disciplines. But learned incrementally to anticipate them and respond quickly to manage them.
Being coached a little is sometimes worse than not being coached at all. The youngster relies on the coach to keep them on track and progressing sometimes at the expense of thinking critically and strategically for themselves. That’s fine if the coach is taking care of everything, but often the coaching only tackles one small aspect of the sport skills such as the technique or training exercises (possibly at the expense of the recovery, nutrition and injury avoidance/management).
The answer? Well, someone has to take charge of looking after the young athletes body! It’s best if the youngsters themselves take this seriously. It’s ironic that they rarely do since they show the fieriest passion to work hard at sport, yet it’s injury avoidance that is very likely to determine their ultimate long term success in sport! And after all, they are the ones who are going to grow up and manage themselves in adulthood. The sooner an awareness of injury and it’s prevention awakens, the better. If a climbing coach only sees them occasionally, that coach should probably encourage the parents to start thinking and acting like coaches, and realise that training for sport is a 24/7 activity that comprises training and recovery and that both are just as important.

Coaches or parents say “But all they want to do is climb, climb climb!” They don’t want to hear about planning the training carefully, increasing load slowly, stretching, warming up, eating well or exercising antagonists. That’s boring.
It’s boring until it becomes clear that this stuff is what separates forgotten athletes who were promising but burned out at 17 from those with long successful careers and still enjoying healthy climbing. So the advice from people who know better, whether that’s coaches or parent has to be framed in a way that makes it clear that this stuff is where the advantage over peers and competitors will ultimately come from. Anyone can get fit and strong just by climbing a lot and pulling on small holds. The goal is to climb for long enough without interruption from injury to actually get really good at it.


Toby said...

Thanks for the post. I'm 25, been climbing for about two years, and am about to embark on a long road trip. I've quit my job and will soon be without good health insurance. So naturally I've had a whole spate of minor injuries crop up in the last eight weeks... just in time to freak me out about my long-term health before my trip!

It definitely helps to see you acknowledge the realities of being injured and managing those injuries. I look at some of my friends who train six days a week for months on end with no ill effects, and I curse my body for not being able to stand up to that sort of load... but the reality is we have to work with what we're given. Much as I would like to keep pushing it, I guess I have to view all these little injuries as signs from my body to take some time off, and be thankful they're not more serious.

Can you comment on nutritional concerns relating to injury prevention? I've heard from sources I consider dubious that not eating enough protein, eating gluten, or other dietary foibles can heighten the risk of injury. Any opinion on this?

Elan said...

How can I (a 14 year old kid) prevent injuries? I do a decent warm up and stretch. Should I cool down after climbing? Are there certain movements I should avoid?

Thank you for sharing your insight with the world. You a very inspiring and keep up the great work!