People are liars.
Not in a horrible way, but everyone we meet has something going on in their lives that we don’t have a clue about.
They present the version of themselves that they want us to see… and as sports and fitness coaches, it’s crucially important that we acknowledge that.
Why? Because it’s these unspoken, hidden, often emotionally stressful factors that can be the most powerful contributors to injury.
Most of the time we can’t choose who turns up to our sessions. We can’t choose to only include the ones who’ve never been injured, or never suffered some kind of emotional trauma. We can’t choose to only include the ones who are happy to tell us everything that’s happened to them in their lifetime so that we can be sure we’ve got the full picture.
Everyone in our sessions, no matter what their age has experienced something in life that has resulted in a tiny increase in muscle tightness. Whether it was spraining their ankle 30 years ago or falling off their bike last week, or experiencing some kind of emotional trauma (which could be anything from being neglected or abused to suffering grief, financial anxieties or losing their job), all these incidents increase the tension/tightness in the body, which contributes to the minor aches and pains that stop us from training.
And of course, when we factor in the age of our participants, there are lots of reasons why they might not tell us about any pains they are suffering from.
That’s why the SMARTT® injury prevention methods don’t just take into account the physiology of injuries. We understand that our participants are individual human beings going through their own life journey so we use the simple concepts of Observation and Applied Variety of Movement to help us keep coaching our session to everyone, while respecting individuality and privacy.
But before I explain how it works, here’s a rough outline of how life impacts the people in our sessions and what they might be using sports and fitness for (please note, every individual is different and may move through these phases at different ages than mentioned. This outline is based on working with thousands of people over the last 30 years):
Children under 12
Because their bodies are still growing and they are still enjoying the suppleness that the body needs in order to create that growth, we often overlook the impact of minor injuries in this age group. But any parent will tell you that their child has suffered bumps and scrapes at some point in their life.
For example, when I was four a concrete flag fell on my hand, a horse reared up and threw me off its back when I was seven and I slipped off a kerb when I was ten – twisting my ankle slightly. It’s more than likely that I fell off my bike more than once too – and much more.
But at this young age, children often don’t have the emotional maturity or the vocabulary to tell us when they’re struggling. Many don’t want to draw attention to themselves or be seen as being different, so they keep quiet.
At this age, sport is a great way of helping children to develop social skills and learn valuable life lessons and can even be the springboard to improving their life-chances.
This is when dreams of competing on the world stage are born. It’s when dedication to training for a particular sport can be formed and it can be when many children who struggle with formal schooling find their sanity.
The minor injuries suffered at this stage of life can form the basis of bigger, more problematic injuries in later years and what we teach our children, through our coaching actions and behaviours can form their beliefs and practices for many decades.
This group of people is even less likely to mention any problems they’re having as they become more self-conscious about their bodies, worry about fitting in with their peer groups and transition into the complexities of adult life.
Talented teenagers are often selected for programmes that give them a pathway to national or international competition and injury at this stage can ruin their careers before they’ve had the chance to reach their full potential.
Sport can be used as a way of showing achievement to universities and colleges to improve chances of selection, and sporting scholarships can even be a way of getting that kind of education that otherwise may not have been available.
The pressure that life can bring to this age group can result in more serious injuries like ligament tears as the tissue in their bodies becomes less pliable towards the end of the growing phase.
Adults aged 20-35 (ish)
At this stage of life, many adults are trying to find their place in the world and prove what they (and their bodies) can achieve.
They will push hard with their training and seem to recover very quickly so they don’t consider minor aches and pains to be a problem. In many cases this is when they will develop the idea that these pains will go away on their own, as they often do!
Oftentimes, comparison against other people is at its worst at this age and this can lead to a loss of connection with their own bodies which, when combined with the fitness industry’s tendency to tell us we’re moving wrong or with “dysfunction” can mean they have no idea how hard is too hard, until it’s too late.
Adults aged 35-50 (ish)
Life for this group of adults is often about things other than themselves (children, careers, ageing parents) and oftentimes they will use sport and exercise as “me time”. They want to train hard to feel like they have achieved something and forget about the stresses of everyday life for a while.
Some still like to compare themselves to others, even if it’s only among friends, but many never recover that connection with their own bodies so are likely to suffer from recurring or repeated injury problems, with each one taking longer than the last to recover from.
Over 50s (ish)
Many adults in this age group start to recognise that they only have one body and that they can no longer treat it like they did in their 20s. Often they feel aches and pains every day, but just put it down to “getting old”. They start to avoid certain activities that feel uncomfortable and this is often the time when the injuries they have suffered throughout their lifetime start to cause problems in daily life
This group use sports and fitness to try to stay active and mobile into their later years.
Over 70s (ish)
After a lifetime of looking after other people, engaging in various sports and activities, and living life without having to rely on anyone else, many in this group fear losing their independence. With age comes increasing frailty and situations (such as falls) that would have felt minor at an earlier age become more significant.
Restricted joint movements that have developed over their lifetime, can result in balance problems and movement problems such as an inability to bend or reach to the cupboards.
Many in this age group use sports and fitness to stay as mobile as possible and socialise.
As sports and fitness coaches, it’s quite likely that we will be coaching groups of mixed ages and abilities who all have their own life experiences, attitudes and beliefs.
So how can the SMARTT® methods allow us to help ALL these groups in the same session?
We use our skills of observation and Applied Variety of Movement to keep our activities inclusive and relevant to all members of our group.
Here’s how it works:
There are certain body language, behaviour and postural clues that human bodies display when they are in distress, regardless of age (although these may be more obvious in older clients). An example would be an inability to relax or sit still. This can be a symptom of restricted spinal movement and can be displayed in our participants’ behaviour as a need to push themselves hard in every session.
Of course, as a group instructor it’s not likely you will be able to tell if that behaviour is because of the spinal restriction, or if they’ve been having a bad day or something else. But the cool thing is, you don’t NEED to know!
Incorporating some Applied Variety of Movement such as side bends, rotations and other such spinal movements into your warm ups and cool downs is a simple way to help the body relieve that restriction if it’s there and if not, to keep the spine moving freely anyway.
If our joints can move freely, without restriction in any direction, then injuries are much less likely to occur and if they do, will be much less severe.
If every coach, in every sport, at every level was using this approach in every session, very soon we would have generations of children who could achieve their full sporting potential, improve their life-chances and grow into adults who didn’t suffer from recurring injuries, which would produce an older population who could live independently for longer.
And the best part?
We don’t have to wait!
We can choose to start this process and change the lives of all our current participants right now – and the more coaches who get involved, the bigger impact we can have on our society… like reducing the strain on the NHS, so they can be free to concentrate their efforts on working through the backlog of patients they postponed during the COVID pandemic and free up their resources to do much more for those who really need it.
You can join the movement right here… see ya there!