As more and more girls enter the realm of sports and fitness, and as fitness professionals and physical education teachers try to promote better health and fitness among children; the challenges to keep children (in particular girls) injury free becomes a greater concern. In a world where we strive for equality among race and gender we have to submit to the fact that females are built differently than males, that the athletic challenges facing young boys are different than those facing girls. The strength and stability challenges are unique to gender. Flexibility, strength and mobility also tends to vary based on gender. So where should we look when considering keeping our young girls on the playing field?
ACL injuries have grown at an alarming rate among females. Females are 4 to 6 times more likely than their male counterparts to suffer a serious knee injury according to Dr. Wendy LeBolt. In her brief summary she stated that according to the July 29, 2002 issue of Soccer America,“nearly one quarter of the players in the WUSA have torn ACL’s at some point in their playing careers.” Now many of you would probably say well there’s an easy answer for that, women are not as strong as men. Not so fast…
Women are stronger, faster and bigger than they have ever been before. However, here lies the problem. The faster and more powerful you are, the more likely you are to damage your joints or muscles if you have not trained the body to be able to absorb the increased forces. Girls move differently than boys and also tend to be quadricep dominant (front of the legs). Dr. Timothy E. Hewett states in his article titled, “Leveling the Playing Field” that:
“As a girl grows, she also becomes more powerful. But unlike her male counterpart, she becomes proportionally more powerful and does not experience that same “neuromuscular growth spurt.” Unless she makes the appropriate neuromuscular adaptations to dissipate the forces and control the additional mass as her body matures, the forces and mass will be transferred to the joints and the ligaments. ”
What I tend to find while working with female athletes is that they typically lack hamstring and glute strength and rely solely on the quads while landing. Most lower leg injuries occur to an athlete during landing. It is the position of the body when landing; the loading of forces and the energy’s need to either be dissipated or released that tends to drive ligament and tendon injuries. The inability for the hamstrings and quads to work in unison also relates directly to knee injuries.
Neuromuscular training is essential for females with a focus on glutes and hamstrings as well as stability. With the girls and women that I have had the opportunity to work with, from Olympic Athlete Sutiya Jiewchawlomit of Thailand to high school Soccer and Basketball players, I make an effort to focus on challenging exercises in a controlled environment making sure the girls understand why they are doing the movements and what the movement will translate into on the playing field or court. My training is exactly what it is. It’s training. We train the mind and body and build the two that have been moving separate from one another into one.
Neuro being the first part meaning brain and muscular being the second part referencing the body. We’re teaching the kids to move from an automatic to a manual, just like a car. No one wants to drive manually any more because they have gotten lazy…Oh it’s too much work to think about each movement, but it affords the driver better control and handling. This is what we are teaching kids to do. We are showing them how to break out of that thoughtless realm and into the realm of complete control between mind and body. My father always said, you’ll be a better, more complete driver if you can drive manually. Guess what? The same goes for your body. The more manual control you have over your limbs, the better you’ll be at sport and at life.