Preventing Ankle Injuries

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Ankle sprains are the most common acute injuries in volleyball at all levels.  According to this article on they account for 30% of all time lost due to injury.  Logically therefore the coach must be aware of how to decrease the number and severity of ankle sprains in his team.  And so we will see players taping their ankles and / or wearing one of a number of different types of ankle braces.  Logical indeed.  But maybe we need to do more to prevent this kind of injury.  Let’s study the problem a little bit.

The first thing to consider is just how common are ankle sprains.  We know that they are the most common volleyball injuries, but are they actually common?  For the 2014 World Championships, I did a (very) rough calculation that an ankle sprain was likely to occur to an individual volleyballer about once every 420 matches.  Looking at it a different way, in the last two seasons I have had one ankle sprain.  (Very) roughly, that is 350 trainings and matches.  If every player has 50 (in reality probably closer to 100) net actions (spikes + blocks, i.e. potential injuries) per session, that comes to 17,500 potential injuries.  If you take out setters and liberos, leaving ten players in the team, that is 175,000 potential injuries over the two seasons, resulting in exactly one (1) actual injury.  It is obvious that while ankle sprains are a common volleyball injury, they are not actually common. In fact, they are astonishingly rare.

Let us now consider the mechanism of an ankle sprain.
In the simplest form, an ankle sprain occurs when two (or more) people try to use the exact same piece of floor at the same time*.  The most obvious way to prevent ankle sprains is to ensure that two players don’t try to use the same piece of floor.  A small number of these are due to the the coach not having appropriate systems and structures in place.  The systems and structures must be clear in every situation. This is also tactically logical, as two players occupying the same area both creates confusion and leaves other areas open.  That is the responsibility of the coach. Making players call is not fulfilling that responsibility.
On occasions, two players occupy the same space due to technical limitations. That is solely the responsibility of the coach. Ensure that players have the technical ability to control their movements.
The rest, and therefore vast majority, of occasions where two players are in the same space are simply due to lack of concentration.  In the last ten years, I don’t recall a single ankle sprain in any practice I have been involved in that was not the direct result of lack of concentration.  That can be caused by general lack of focus, or distraction, or by fatigue.  I can take that one step further, in my experience, 80% of ankle sprains occur in the last month of the season when players are often at their most fatigued and least focussed.

To summarise, ankle sprains are incredibly rare.  And the best way to prevent these incredibly rare events is have good systems in place, good technical instruction, manage the training / competition load, i.e. fatigue, appropriately and maintain a focussed training environment.

Actually, that is just good coaching.

*Yes, sometimes players just fall over and sprain their ankles, but I think under the circumstances we can remove that situation from our consideration.

The total of 82 practical Coaching Tips can be found here and here.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.


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