Coaches Cause Injury

(Note - this post updated 19-11-13)

I coach developing athletes. One of the keys with this is teaching a good quality technical basis for the skills they need to become expert in. We work in on these techniques in 2 different ways:
  1. establish the flexibility and strength to execute the skills, and
  2. teach the technical aspects of the skills.
Even with enormous care in developing the physical parameters concurrently with the technical parameters, athletes get injured.

It occurs to me that without a coach teaching these techniques, players would focus very little on technique, and just 'play'. When they just play it is likely that they will only use techniques which fall within the range their body can properly support. Basically, they would naturally reduce their injury risk by playing within their physical limitations.

Which makes me think, maybe coaching is actually causing some injuries in athletes. By teaching athletes techniques that are at the limits of their body's stability, we are putting athletes into dangerous situations.

All of this comes together in a presentation I saw recently by David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene. Epstein discussed the physical predisposition of some people, or groups of people, to be successful in particular athletic endeavours. In relation to my environment, one could argue that, in a sport that requires a lot of upper body rotation, young athletes who can already do this would have a huge advantage over those who are limited in this area, and perhaps should be specifically targetted.

(Photo Credit)


  1. There is some theory, I don't remember which perhaps 'Differentiated Learning', that says the body must be allowed to find its own way to perform a skill. If led and encouraged in the right manner it will find the most efficient, healthy pathways for it. The example that was explained to me, is that goofy footers are that way because it is the best way for their bodies and they should never be changed.

  2. Thanks for the comment Mark, its an interesting link to the original idea, and inspired me to update my original post.

    As a coach its important to always be focussing on developing an athlete to be 'the best they can be'. The challenge is that sometimes we think that if they continue to do things they way they do, it is impossible for 'the best they can be' to be good enough to compete at the highest level.


    interesting but i'm not sure i agree...

    there's an assumption there that when athletes just 'play' they naturally put their bodies in optimal positions. there's also an assumption that putting an athletes body into another position is suboptimal for their make up.

    there are times when this may be true and other times when it's not. we have a guy at at my club who learned how to play at social volleyball. has no rotation when he hits which is suboptimal for him and causes him no end of hitting issues and is likely to cause shoulder problems. coaching could put him in a better position.

    i think there are times though when the optimal position for an athlete is not the text book definition of the technique. goes back to our other long running discussion about technique. maybe the batsman who walks across his crease as the ball comes to him does so because he's got something wrong with his eyes and by moving his eyes adjust better to the ball. if a coach tried to get him to keep his head still which is the correct technique, it may have made him worse.

    i think rather than an absolute that the post implies, i would say that an astute coach needs to take this possibility into account when changing technique. there may be a physiological or psychological reason why they perform an action in a certain way. maybe not. i would even say most of the time not but i do see too many coaches try to fit athletes to a technique without thinking in enough detail about things. that's why coaching is hard.

    1. Thanks Jason - thanks so much for your thoughts.

      One thing though, I certainly don't think that when athletes just 'play' they put their bodies in optimal positions. Just that when they 'play' their own body's limitations protect it. Unfortunately this often means they develop habits which hugely limit them at a higher level.


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