By TIFFANY RONEY
In preparation for another season of high impact athletics, middle school and high school athletes are learning proper techniques and strengthening their legs at Memorial Health System’s Jump Program.
“The biggest thing is preventing injuries – I mean, if we can prevent one ACL tear, that’s fantastic, because it’s a long rehab,” Jeff Sanborn, director of Memorial Health Systems Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, said. “It’s a 6-9 month rehab to return to your sport, and if we can teach one girl to jump properly, build strength and flexibility and do things correctly, preventing that injury’s a big thing.”
Justin Clark, athletic trainer for Memorial Health Systems Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, said he and Sanborn started the program 6 or 7 years ago in response to national data showing young women’s risk for ACL tears. He said females have a high risk than males for non-contact injuries in sports.
This year, for the first time, Clark and Sanborn have an assistant jumping teacher:
Amee Stapleton, intern athletic trainer for Memorial Health Systems Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine. Stapleton, senior in athletic training at Fort Hays State University, said she grew up playing sports but did not have the opportunity to attend anything like the Jump Program.
“I think it would have been very beneficial just to see where my alignment was at, at a younger age,” Stapleton said. “I think what Justin’s doing is really helping to prevent a lot of knee injuries.”
Stapleton said the program is a good educational tool for parents to realize the importance of their children learning correct mechanics of jumping. She said the program helps athletes jump properly and have better alignment in every sport they play.
Coaches may recommend mend their athletes participating in the program, and Sanborn said he sometimes recommends patients with ACL injuries participate in the program after going through full rehab. Though some participants find out about the program on the basis of such recommendations, participation in the program is voluntary.
How they learn to jump
The 9-12 week program begins with a video analysis so Clark and Sanborn can look at each participant’s jumping mechanics. For the rest of the tri-weekly sessions, the participants work to continue right movements and correct specific problems in their jumping technique.
He said proper jumping involves keeping the lower body in alignment so the hip is over the knee and the knee is over the toe. Additionally, they aim to have each participant keep a healthy space between her feet and to align their feet so they are not pointed inward or outward.
“We try to get them to where their knee is in proper alignment, keep their body square while they’re doing their movements, and that’ll keep them from tearing their ACL, hopefully,” Clark said.
At the end of each session, Clark and Sanborn lead the participants in flexibility stretching. At the end of the summer program, leaders re-test the participants with a second video analysis.
“Everybody we’ve had so far has improved in certain aspects of their strength or their flexibility or their jumping height or distance, and then technique, so it’s nice to be able to show them that improvement,” Sanborn said.
A day in the life of a jumper
Clark said 95% of Abilene student athletes are multi-sport athletes, and Jump Program participants are not excluded. Thus, many of the participants play volleyball, basketball, softball and track. During the summer, some participants lift weights in the morning for sports camp, attend Jump Program in the afternoon and then play two or three summer league games in the evening.
Between summer sports and vacations, participants’ busy lives can make it difficult for them to attend the program consistently. Clark said participants who skip sessions miss out on growth, but whenever they return, Clark and Sanborn aim to help the participants to keep progressing forward.
Each session starts with a warm up and stretching routine. During the jump training portion of each session, participants work on jumping and landing mechanics, knee positioning, foot positioning and hip positions, as well as strengthening exercises for the core and overall body. Participants jump in front of a mirror, and they look at their mechanics and attempt to improve with every jump.
“I have the younger kids; I have the 6th, 7th grade kids, and they’re willing to work,” Stapleton said. “They want to get better, and they know that this can help them. And from the first day, whenever we video’d them, until now, I can see a drastic improvement, we’ve had four sessions.”
Stapleton said she thinks the program has the most profound effect on repeat attenders. Clark said some students participate in three years in a row if they start in the 6th, 7th or 8th grade and continue through until their freshman or sophomore year of high school.
Outside the Jump Program, Clark said he continues to see some of the same athletes during the school year because he works with sports teams at Abilene High School and Chapman High School. He said his favorite part of the program is getting to know some of the younger students and seeing them progress from that point through their senior year of high school.
Sanborn said it never hurts for athletes to practice their techniques and build their strength. Clark said participants maintain proper technique well, and he usually sees improvement with each year.
“They’re getting bigger physically, getting stronger year by year,” Clark said. “Always seeing them improve, we have to make stuff a little harder for them.”
In upcoming years, Clark said if he and Sanborn find any better ways to prevent ACL injuries, they will change their methods. Otherwise, they plan to continue offering the program in the same way for 3-4 weeks each summer.
“We enjoy working with all ages, but it’s fun to work with the youth and, again, have them be successful and show the improvement that they make,” Sanborn said.