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Monthly Archives: December 2016

We Are Grown Men Playing a Child’s Game

  Bill Russell, the dark, gainly and responsible man who is center and co-captain of the Boston Celtics, the perennial champions of the National Basketball Association, is, without question, one of the most remarkable athletes of our time, yet he regards his life up to now as a waste. “I don’t consider anything I have done,” he has said, “as contributing to society. I consider playing professional basketball as marking time, the most shallow thing in the world.” Russell is not biting the hand that feeds him and his family; he is too canny and practical a man. He is not sullying basketball in any meaningful sense, either. It is, rather, that he is close to 30 years old and has made certain judgments that seem to him so correct and obvious that he is not afraid to enunciate them: basketball, or any other sport, is, at bottom, frivolous, and the imposition of being a Negro at-this moment in history is an obligation that cannot be met on the floor of the Boston Garden. Where and how he can fulfill it Russell does not yet know.

In six full seasons with the Celtics, Russell has been selected four times by the players in the league as the NBA’s most valuable player, including the last three years in succession; on the other two occasions he was runner-up. Before Russell joined the Celtics late in 1956, they had led the league in scoring for the five foregoing years but, nonetheless, each year the Celtics had been eliminated in the divisional playoffs. In Russell’s tenure Boston has won six of seven championships. The only year it lost out—1958—Russell was injured during the final playoff series and did not play in two of the last three games. His contributions to his team’s welfare are, however, often unsung. Not long ago, for instance, it was—who else?—Russell who found a teammate’s contact lens on the court. “Do I have to do everything for this club?” he said, with an indulgent smile.

What makes Russell’s achievements most noteworthy is that he is primarily a defensive player in what, prior to his time and success, was threatening to become an almost wholly offensive game. “Basketball,” says Red Auerbach, the Boston coach, “is like war, in that offensive weapons are developed first, and it always takes a while for the defense to catch up. Russell has had the biggest impact on the game of anyone in the last 10 years because he has instituted a new defensive weapon—that of the blocked shot. He has popularized the weapon to combat the aggressive, running-type game. He is by far the greatest center ever to play the game.” By Russell’s own admission, he can block shots only 5% of the time, and even less frequently against such gifted shooters as Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson. What makes him such a formidable and dominant figure is, as he says, that “they don’t know which 5% it will be.”

Says Bill Russell: “Basketball is a game that involves a great deal of psychology. The psychology in defense is not blocking a shot or stealing a pass or getting the ball away. The psychology is to make the offensive team deviate from their normal habits. This is a game of habits, and the player with the most consistent habits is the best. What I try to do on defense is to make the offensive man do not what he wants but what I want. If I’m back on defense and three guys are coming at me, I’ve got to do something to worry all three. First I must make them slow up or stop. Then I must force them to make a bad pass and take a bad shot and, finally, I must try to block the shot. Say the guy in the middle has the ball and I want the guy on the left to take the shot. I give the guy with the ball enough motion to make him stop. Then I step toward the man on the right, inviting a pass to the man on the left; but, at the same time, I’m ready to move, if not on my way, to the guy on the left. I’m giving away all my secrets.”

“What Russell really does,” says teammate Tommy Heinsohn, “is demoralize. The other players are afraid to take their normal shots. Instead, they’re looking to see what Russell will do.” As Bill Bridges of the St. Louis Hawks said recently, “Russell told me I better bring pepper and salt to the next game. He told me I was going to eat basketballs.” Indeed, the ball has come to be known by the pros as a Wilson burger, after its manufacturer.

“In my modest opinion,” says Russell, who is not a particularly good shooter, “shooting is of relatively little importance in a player’s overall game. Almost all of us in the NBA are All-Americas. We became All-Americas by averaging 20 points or more a game, so by the layman’s standards all of us can shoot. It’s the other phases of the game that make the difference. If you’re going to score 15 and let your man score 20 you’re a deficit. If your value to the team is strictly as a shooter, you are of very little value. Offense is the first thing you learn as a kid in any sport: catch a pass, dribble, bat, shoot. You learn the offensive aspects of a game long before you learn there even are defensive aspects. These are the skills you come by naturally. Defense is hard work because it’s unnatural.

“Defense is a science,” Russell says, “not a helter-skelter thing you just luck into. Every move has six or seven years of work behind it. In basketball your body gets to do things it couldn’t do in normal circumstances. You take abnormal steps, you have to run backward almost as fast as you can run forward. On defense you must never cross your legs while running, and that’s the most natural thing to do when changing direction. Instead, you try to glide like a crab. You have to fight the natural tendencies and do things naturally that aren’t natural.

“In rebounding, position is the key. No two objects can occupy the same place at the same time. Seventy-five percent of the rebounds are taken below the height of the rim, so timing is important, because almost everyone in the league can reach the top of the rim. A really important part of rebounding is being able to jump up more than once. You have to keep trying for that ball. Sometimes you jump four or five times before you can get your hands on it. I used to practice jumping over and over again. When I was 6 feet 2, I could jump to the top of the rim 35 times, over and over.

“You have to have strong hands. Most of the time three guys will have their hands on the ball at the same time, and you have to be able to grab it away. I guess I just naturally have strong hands, but if I didn’t I would exercise until they were strong. But getting the ball is only half the job. Then you have to do something with it.”

Soccer Safety Tips

Soccer (known as football outside the United States) is one of the most popular team sports in the world. Soccer also can be a way to encourage children to be physically active while they learn about teamwork and sportsmanship.

With the growing popularity of soccer comes a greater number of injuries. However, the risk of injury can be reduced.

Tips to Help Prevent Soccer Injuries

  • Equipment. Players should use the right equipment.
    • Protective Mouthguards
    • Protective Eyewear. Glasses or goggles should be made with polycarbonate or a similar material. The material should conform to the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
    • Shoes. Cleats should provide sufficient heel/arch support and grip.
    • Balls. Soccer balls should be water-resistant, the right size based on age, and properly inflated.
    • Preseason Training. There is growing evidence that preseason conditioning and balance training may reduce the risk of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
  • Fair Play. Violent behavior and aggressive play increase the risk of injury and should be strongly discouraged. Parents and coaches should encourage good sportsmanship and fair play.
  • Field Conditions. Uneven playing surfaces can increase risk of injury, especially in outdoor soccer. The field should be checked for holes or irregularities. Goal posts should be secured to the ground at all times even when not in use. Follow installation guidelines from the manufacturers and Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • Heading Technique. The risk of a head injury is comparable to other contact/collision sports, though evidence does not support repeated heading as a risk for short- or long-term cognitive issues. However, to reduce the risk of injury from heading the soccer ball, players should be taught proper heading technique at the appropriate age and with an appropriate-sized ball.
    Excessive heading drills should be discouraged until more is known about the effects on the brain. Also, no recommendations regarding the use of helmets or cushioned pads to reduce head injury in soccer can be made at this time. More research and established safety standards and regulations are needed.

Common Soccer Injuries

Soccer injuries in general occur when players collide with each other or when players collide with the ground, ball, or goalpost. They also may result from nonbody contact, such as from running, twisting/turning, shooting, and landing. The most common types of injuries in youth soccer are sprains and strains, followed by contusions (bruises). Most injuries are minor, requiring basic first aid or a maximum of 1 week’s rest from playing soccer.

  • Ankle & Knee Injuries. Most ankle and knee injuries do not result from contact with another player. Ankle injuries are more common in male players and knee injuries are more common in female players. ACL injuries are relatively common knee injuries. Most of these injuries happen not from coming in contact with another player, but from sudden stops and pivots. ACL injury risk-reduction programs are recommended for female adolescents.
  • Heel Pain. Irritation of the growth plate of the heel bone (Sever’s Disease) is common in youth soccer. This can be treated with calf stretching, activity modification (avoid extra running), heel cups or arch supports, ice, and antiinflammatory medicine.
  • Head Injuries. Concussions are common in soccer. They usually occur when a player’s head collides with another player’s head, shoulder, or arm, or the ground. Females tend to have a slightly higher concussion risk than males. Concussions temporarily affect brain function, although loss of consciousness or blackout may or may not happen. All concussions are serious and need to be evaluated by a doctor before players can return to play. The signs and symptoms of a concussion range from mild to severe and usually happen right after the injury, but may take hours to days to show up. With most concussions, the player is not knocked out or unconscious.
  • Mouth, Face & Teeth Injuries. Soccer is one of the leading causes of mouth, facial, anddental injuries in sports (second only to basketball). Use of protective mouthguards may help reduce the number of injuries.
  • Eye Injuries. Eye injuries are rare, but when they occur they are often severe, resulting in damage to the eye globe or blowout fractures of the eye socket. Protective eyewear is recommended for all soccer players.

Sports Sense

Help your child avoid common athletic risks and injuries by taking a few basic precautions — and tuning out the pressures.

Playing sports is a big part of growing up and going to school for many children. But the pursuit of victory in any activity carries with it risks and responsibilities.

Managing the risks to a child’s health and safety is a duty shared by coaches, parents, and the student-athletes themselves. That’s why it’s important that everyone is clear on what those risks and responsibilities are. The issue extends to school-sponsored sports and athletics, and to recreational activities.

Parents should be aware of the training and competitive practices in each area, notes Joel Brenner, M.D., FAAP, lead author of the new AAP clinical report, “Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes.” “But non-school recreational sports tend to have fewer guidelines and rules,” he says. “Often there are no athletic trainers involved, so parents need to be especially proactive in making sure proper practices are followed.”

Along with the obvious concerns over sports-related injuries, there are three general risks that parents of young athletes should be aware of: overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout.

Overuse Injuries

Overuse is by far the most common type of sports injury, accounting for as many as half of the total in the United States. An overuse injury is damage to bones, muscles, or tendons that results from the body being worked too hard. This type of injury causes stress to these tissues that takes time to heal.

But too often competitive pressures, practice and game schedules, and a sense of duty to the team compel many young athletes to ignore or deny symptoms of overuse injuries. Failing to allow these to heal only adds further stress to the painful areas, risking long-term damage.

Also, the “no pain, no gain” and “play through the pain” approach to ignoring the aches and pains of sports can discourage the healing process. A young person’s body is still growing. Bones simply cannot tolerate the high levels of stress common to competitive sports if healing isn’t allowed to happen. In more severe cases, continuing to exercise the overuse-injured area can have serious long-term health effects.

Parents should be alert to these common symptoms of overuse injury:

  • Pain in the muscle, tendon, or bone after practice or a game
  • Pain while playing or during practice (even if the child remains able to play)
  • Pain during play that affects the child’s ability to perform
  • Constant or chronic pain, even when not playing


The drive to succeed — along with the sheer joy many youngsters feel as a result of developing their sports talents — can lead to long hours of practice. That can reach the point of overtraining, and, eventually, overuse injuries.

The best way for parents to address this problem before it occurs is to stay on top of their child’s training schedule. Pay attention to the amount of time, energy, and interest the child applies to training for his or her sport.

Some good rules of thumb for keeping training in line include:

  • Limit your child to a single sport or team activity per season, and the training schedule to no more than five days per week.
  • Be mindful of the weather during summer and winter training seasons. Insist that your child make changes to the schedule if the weather is extreme.
  • Encourage your child to vary training exercises from day to day, if possible. For example, she could alternate formal track-and-field training with swimming.


Enthusiasm is just as vital as physical skills in keeping children healthy during athletic seasons. Yet the very things that make sports participation so rewarding can also become overwhelming. When that happens, your child can lose interest in the sport that once gave so much pleasure. This is called burnout.

“Families need to be open in their communications about athletics,” Brenner says. “Parents should understand what the child’s goals are — and make sure the activity is driven by the child’s, not the parents’, goals.”

On a day-to-day level, burnout can produce moodiness, a loss of interest that spreads to other activities, such as academics, and a drop in performance in the sport. But there are physical consequences to burnout as well. These can include:

  • Constant or chronic muscle and joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Increased resting heart rate

Keeping It All in Focus

The rewards — and lessons — of sports participation are a vital part of growing up for many students. The National Sporting Goods Association reports that every year, more than 45 million children and adolescents take to the fields, tracks, pools, and gym floors.

Many kids dream of athletic glory beyond their present level. But it’s crucial that they understand that less than 1 percent of student athletes reach the professional leagues. Taking on more than the body can handle can put a premature end to the fun of sports.


Football is a fast-paced, aggressive, contact team sport that is very popular among America’s youth. Football programs exist for players as young as 6 years all the way through high school, college, and professional.

Injuries are common because of the large number of athletes participating. However, the risk of injuries can be reduced. The following is information from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) about how to prevent football injuries. Also included is an overview of common football injuries.

Injury prevention and safety tips

  • Supervision. Athletes should be supervised and have easy access to drinking water and have body weights measured before and after practice to gauge water loss.
  • Equipment. Safety gear should fit properly and be well maintained.
    • Shoes. Football shoes should be appropriate for the surface (turf versus cleats). Laces should be tied securely.
    • Pants. Football pants should fit properly so that the knee pads cover the knee cap, hip pads cover the hip bones, the tailbone pad covers the tailbone, and thigh pads cover a good share of the thigh. Pads should not be removed from the pants.
    • Pads. Shoulder pads should be sized by chest measurement. They must be large enough to extend ¾ to 1 inch beyond the acromioclavicular joint. Athletes should have adequate range of motion, and the pads should not ride up into the neck opening when raising the arms.
    • Helmets. The helmet should be fitted so that the eyebrows are 1 to 1½ inches below the helmet’s front rim. The back of the helmet should cover the back of the head, and the athlete’s ear openings should be in the center of the helmet ear openings. Jaw pads should be snug against the athlete’s jaw. The chin strap should be centered over the chin and tightened to prevent movement of the helmet on the head. The helmet padding and chin strap should be tight enough to prevent any rotation of the helmet on the head. Face masks should be attached to the helmets. Additional protection can be provided by a clear Plexiglas shield.
    • Mouth guards can help prevent oral or facial injuries but not concussions.
  • Environment. A safe playing field is level and cleared of debris, equipment, and other obstacles. Field goal posts should be padded.
  • Emergency plan. Teams should develop and practice an emergency plan so that team members know their roles in emergency situations. The plan would include first aid and emergency contact information. All members of the team should receive a written copy each season. Parents also should be familiar with the plan and review it with their children.

Common injuries

Ankle injuries

Ankle sprains are some of the most common injuries in football. They can prevent athletes from being able to play. Ankle sprains often happen when an athlete gets blocked or tackled with the foot firmly in place, causing the ankle to roll in (invert). An ankle sprain is more likely to happen if an athlete had a previous sprain, especially a recent one.

Treatment begins with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). Athletes should see a doctor as soon as possible if they cannot walk on the injured ankle or have severe pain. X-rays may be needed.

Regular icing (20 minutes) helps with pain and swelling. Weight bearing and exercises to regain range of motion, strength, and balance are key factors to getting back to sports. Tape and ankle braces can prevent or reduce the frequency of ankle sprains and enable an athlete to return to activity more quickly.

Finger injuries

Finger injuries occur when the finger is struck by the ball or an opponent’s hand or body. The “jammed finger” is often overlooked because of the myth that nothing needs to be done, even if it is broken. If fractures that involve a joint or tendon are not properly treated, permanent damage can occur.

Any injury that is associated with a dislocation, deformity, inability to straighten or bend the finger, or significant pain should be examined by a doctor. X-rays may be needed. Buddy tape may be all that is needed to return to sports; however, this cannot be assumed without an exam and x-ray. Swelling often persists for weeks to months after a finger joint sprain. Ice, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and range of motion exercises are important for treatment.

Knee injuries

Knee injuries commonly occur from cutting, pivoting, landing from a jump, or contact with another athlete. If the athlete feels a pop or shift in the knee, then it’s most likely a ligament injury.

Treatment begins with RICE. Athletes should see a doctor as soon as possible if they cannot walk on the injured knee. Athletes should also see a doctor if the knee is swollen, a pop is felt at the time of injury, or the knee feels loose or like it will give way.

Medial collateral ligament sprains can be treated in a hinged brace and allowed to return to play. Athletes who return to play with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) risk further joint damage. Athletes with an ACL tear should not return to their sport until the ligament has been reconstructed and they have been cleared by the surgeon.

Shoulder injuries

Shoulder injuries can occur from diving for a ball or from blocking or tackling.

Athletes usually feel their shoulder pop out of place when it is dislocated. Most of the time the shoulder goes back into the joint on its own; this is called a subluxation (partial dislocation). If the athlete requires help to get it back in, it is called adislocation. Risk of dislocation recurrence is high for youth participating in football. Shoulder strengthening exercises, stabilization braces and, in many cases, surgery may be recommended to prevent recurrence.

Pain from repetitive use is common in football, usually due to weak muscles of the back and trunk. Often rehabilitation exercises and rest from excessive blocking or tackling drills are all that is necessary to treat this type of pain.

Eye injuries

Eye injuries commonly occur in football usually due to a finger poking through the face mask. Any injury that affects vision or is associated with swelling or blood inside the eye should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist. The AAP recommends that children involved in organized sports wear appropriate protective eyewear.

Low back pain

Spondylolysis, stress fractures of the bones in the lower spine, is due to overuse from high-impact and repetitive arching of the back. Symptoms include low back pain that feels worse with back extension activities. Treatment of spondylolysis includes rest and physical therapy to improve flexibility and low back and core (trunk) strength, and possibly a back brace. Athletes are advised to limit repetitive arching of the spine (blocking and weight lifting) and high-impact activities (running and jumping). Athletes with low back pain for longer than 2 weeks should see a doctor. X-rays are usually normal so other tests are often needed to diagnose spondylolysis. Successful treatment requires early recognition of the problem and timely treatment.

Head injuries

Concussions occur if the head or neck hits the ground, equipment, or another athlete. A concussion is any injury to the brain that disrupts normal brain function on a temporary or permanent basis.

The signs and symptoms of a concussion range from subtle to obvious and usually happen right after the injury but may take hours to days to show up. Athletes who have had concussions may report feeling normal before their brain has fully recovered. With most concussions, the player is not knocked out or unconscious.

Prematurely returning to play after a concussion can lead to another concussion or even death. An athlete with a history of concussion is more susceptible to another injury than an athlete with no history of concussion. If a concussion has occurred, it is again important to make sure the helmet was fitted properly. If the concussion occurred due to the player leading with the head to make a tackle, he should be strongly discouraged from continuing that practice.