Physicals ensure players are ready for competition
The first day of practice can be exciting or excruciating for a student athlete.
Preparation for that day should be happening all summer, coaches say, yet each year they see players show up for that first day in August not in shape or ready to compete.
The saying, "Failing to prepare, you prepare to fail," is true, said Mike Gregory, head football and baseball coach at Edgerton High School.
While about 80 percent of his players show up for football practice ready, there's always a few "pukers" who end up on the sidelines because they can't make it through all of the workout.
"They stick out like sore thumbs," he said. "Usually by (the time they're) juniors, they learn that's not cool and don't want to be that guy, don't want to be in pain."
But before you can participate, you need a doctor's approval through a sports physical. The WIAA requires student athletes to have such an exam every other year.
Area clinics are offering special sessions for students to pass that requirement.
The exams allow physicians to see if a child has any ongoing medical problems that would prohibit or limit sports participation such as asthma, said Dr. Christopher Harkin of Mercy's Evansville clinic.
A doctor looks specifically at joints, muscles, heart and lungs during the head-to-toe exam, he said.
Every now and then, doctors find a child with a heart palpitation, he said.
The sports physicals, which take about a half hour at Mercy, are "very complete" and "essentially would replace a physical examination," he said.
At Dean Health System's Riverview Clinic, pediatrician Dr. John Ziegler said doctors there don't offer "sports physicals" because they integrate them into a patient's overall physical exam. The complete exam includes things such as growth and development as well as psychosocial issues and immunizations, he said.
"Another part is for kids this age who are otherwise healthy, this may be the only contact with a physician for a two-year period," he said. "So we really want to optimize the time in the doctor's office."
On a recent day, for example, Ziegler saw two student athletes for exams and talked with them about other issues they had: acne and wart treatment.
Staying in shape during the off-season is a no-brainer.
But it's also important for injury prevention, doctors and coaches say.
Muscle soreness is expected during the beginning days of practice.
Janesville Craig coach Mark Marsden stresses to his athletes the importance of agility and weight training.
"If you're stronger, you're probably less likely to hurt yourself," said Marsden, head coach of girls basketball and girls track and field.
For girls, a big worry is tearing the ACL because it typically means a year off from sports, he said. Strength conditioning is the best prevention, though such injuries can occur with no contact from other players.
"(If they've) been running, preparing themselves, they're less likely to get injuries than those kids that haven't done anything," Gregory said.
Staying in touch with coaches is important, they said.
Then comes practice.
Gone are the days of static stretching where everyone gets in a circle and touches their toes. Not only did that become more of a social time, but studies have shown stretching a cold muscle doesn't give the same benefit of stretching a warm muscle, Gregory said.
Now, most coaches use dynamic warm-ups—movement-based—to ease into practice, he said.
As a football coach, Gregory's biggest concern is the heat, especially with practice starting in the dog days of summer. Staying hydrated is key, and practices are more centered around water breaks than years ago, coaches said.
Many coaches also advise their athletes not to drink soda or sugary, carbonated drinks. Water and Gatorade are the recommended drinks, they said.
Marsden provides a diet guideline for his players that advises, for example, what to eat the day before a game.
"We talk a lot about eating bananas to keep potassium up so they don't cramp up," Gregory said.
But being in shape will not only help prevent injuries, it allows you to perform to the highest level.
"If you're not on the field, you can't show (coaches) what you're (capable of) doing," Gregory said.
-- 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 9, Mercy Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center, 557 N. Washington St., Janesville. Those interested should schedule an appointment by calling (608) 755-7880. Cost is $35. Cash only payments are due at the visit.
-- The Janesville Family Health Center offers a special rate of $35 until Aug. 15. Physicals include a urinalysis. Lab fees, X-rays and additional services if needed are not included in the $35 fee. Parents or guardians are asked to accompany the child and bring immunization records. To schedule an appointment, call the Janesville Family Health Center at (608) 757-1217.
GET IN SHAPE FAST
Coaches recommend student athletes work out and train for sports all summer to stay in shape. But as practice begins in a matter of days or weeks for most fall sports, some kids might be scrambling to get in shape fast.
Brent Wesolek, performance enhancement specialist with Mercy Acceleration's sports training program, offered these suggestions:
In his programs, Wesolek works with athletes on high-speed treadmill running, especially incline runs to maximize and optimize their speed through enhanced stride length and frequency.
His program uses a special treadmill that can provide up to 40-percent elevation.
Athletes can run up hills—"that's effective for getting shape"—and do short sprints on flat elevations, he said.
Run at least three times a week, but athletes eager to get in shape fast have to be careful not to over-train or create injuries, he said.
Jumping mechanics help improve agility.
Wesolek has his athletes train for 30 to 60 minutes once a week on a special wood floor that has more give. Kids at home should train on grass—not the driveway or garage where the possibility of injury increases.
One exercise in his program, for example, is having athletes jump quickly from numbers on the ground similar to a tic-tac-toe board.
This activity will give an athlete the foundation for the above two exercises, and strength training definitely should be started before the season.
Lift two to three times a week, but avoid two consecutive days. If you want to hit the same muscle group twice a week, separate it by three days.
Good progress can be made in two weeks of strength training so that the first few days of practice aren't as rough, Wesolek said.
But "they're not going to see a dramatic change in muscle size," he said.