How do you get athletes, coaches, and parents to “buy in” to injury prevention?
When it comes to injury prevention, frequently we are excited, passionate and ready to get started only to hit road blocks: no one seems to want to give it the attention that it deserves. Coaches don’t want to give up valuable practice time, parents can’t fit it into jam packed schedules, and athletes, well, they are athletes!
Over the past 25 years, I have had many failed attempts at implementing injury prevention programs, so I would like to share with you what I have learned from my mistakes.
Some renowned injury prevention researchers looked back at their injury prevention efforts with a huge cohort of female handball teams over a 10 year period (Mykelbust et al 2013). One of their key findings was that for injury prevention to be successful you “must have the coach as a 'partner' in the process”.
But how exactly do you do that?
Frequently, because of our passion, we provide too much information and end up sounding like a pushy salesperson.
When talking with coaches and parents I suggest breaking it down into several steps:
Be helpful. Don't push your own agenda. Ask what you can help the coach with? From there you will learn about their pain points, as well as areas for collaboration.
If they don't know what help they need simply ask, “Can I test your team/athlete to see how they are doing?” Don’t promise too much. Just mention that there is some good research about the ability to identify athletes at more risk of injury and improve their performance.
(Remember: researchers have found that the message should focus on both performance and prevention — also remember that if the player is on the bench with an injury, they can’t perform!)
After testing, don’t go running to the coach talking about your amazing findings. Get the coach/parent to ask: “How did they do?” Now you have some (albeit little) buy-in because they are asking the question — you are not pushing information.
Tell them how they did: “I found these performance deficits and these risk factors.” Then be quiet. This is THE hardest part! By waiting, you give them the opportunity to process and then ask a question about it.
Parent/Coach says “Well, what are we going to do about it?” I say smiling, “I’m glad you asked.” — total buy-in.
Present your evidence-based performance and injury prevention strategy by changing the modifiable risk factors you tested. Remember, this needs to be a step-wise process. Change is best implemented in small increments. Start by giving each player some individualized correctives during warm-ups or simply tweak the team's current warm-up to address some of the common deficits found with testing.
While these steps are the best way I have found to have the conversation, it is by no means 100% effective. I think the other key ingredient is persistence. Mykelbust et al said it best:
“persistent effort to promote injury prevention over several years, using every opportunity available”
It can take years to change the culture of any organization. Start small with big goals in mind.
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