In a wide-ranging, rapid-fire study session, coaches, trainers and administrators attending USC Verdugo Hills’ first annual Coaches Clinic on Saturday learned tips and tactics for keeping their athletes healthy.
A diverse, attentive audience of about 30 — including representatives from La Cañada High School and Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy — listened to nine experts give presentations jam-packed with good advice, healthy reminders and new information about the latest research.
It was the latest community outreach effort from USC-VHH, which also has offered free seminars about men’s health, aging and suicide.
“We have a commitment to meet the varied health needs of the community we serve,” USC-VHH CEO Keith Hobbs said.
“The wealth of information is the most important thing now,” said Stephanie Contreras, athletic director at FSHA. “The awareness of what’s available and to get treatment and don’t play injured, all this is preventative stuff. When I was young, we just sucked it up and did it, but we can’t do that to athletes, we have to give them the knowledge.”
That know-how included a look at the reasons why young athletes are susceptible to chronic, overuse injuries. Some factors, according to physical therapist Juliette Norman: Young bodies are changing, bones growing, tendons and muscles lengthening. They’re also dealing with intensified specialization that can overburden certain bones, tendons and muscles — as well as increased pressure and competition.
Norman urged her audience to keep that in mind as they guided youngsters on the playing and practice field.
Dr. Alexander Weber — La Cañada High School’s team doctor and an orthopedic and sports medicine specialist at USC — stressed that athletes returning from injuries such as torn anterior cruciate ligaments shouldn’t return until they’ve gotten the go-ahead from surgeons as well as physical therapists, coaches and the athletes themselves.
“It shouldn’t be that a surgeon says, ‘Six weeks are up, now go back and play.’ It should be a conversation and a dialogue, a joint decision,” said Weber, who will be available at the new Saturday walk-in appointments at USC-VHH starting on Sept. 2, for athletes who require care before the work week begins.
Dr. Frank Attenello — assistant professor of clinical neurological surgery at USC’s Keck School of Medicine — sought to temper growing fears about concussions, so long as the injury receives proper treatment: “Rarely will you see a person with a single concussion have issues for life. The biggest danger, in my opinion, is a return to play too early. It’s called second-head injury phenomena; that could cause very serious symptoms. Your brain needs a period of time to recover.”
In response to a question from LCHS Athletic Director Kristina Kalb, he said that modern, technologically advanced helmets have not been proven to decrease the number of concussions student-athletes suffer, but that those helmets do seem to reduce the severity of concussions when they occur.
And USC sports dietitian Becci Twombley advised LCHS girls basketball coach Sarah Beattie that the best way to persuade teenage girls to avoid potentially unhealthy eating fads is by encouraging them to be proud of their strength and muscles.
“The best advice I can give is to continue communicating to them that they are powerful and fierce and great at what they do because of their quads and their strong arms, not despite it,” Twombley said.
Dr. Charles Flowers’ presentation on sports vision training — and how improved visual awareness on the field can help athletes prevent injuries — opened some eyes.
“I have not thought about vision training that way,” Kalb said afterward. “And it completely makes sense. I’m thinking about something like that, that’s not going to cost what [Flowers’] mechanisms cost, but little ways we can utilize [sports vision training] at school.”
Otherwise, Kalb said she appreciated the reminders and refreshers that also dealt with balanced movement, shoulder injuries and spine injuries.
“This is fabulous for our community,” she said. “I wish we could have more people here today, and I’m hopeful they continue to hold it annually and we get more people involved. Think about all the schools in the area, I would love to see everybody and I’d love to bring more of my coaches, because this is very important, valuable stuff.”
Hobbs said he received lots of positive feedback following the event, including a promise from one school administrator to make attendance at next year’s a requirement for his coaches.
“To use a sports analogy,” Hobbs said, “we hit a home run.”