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CHAPTER 21:
Football and Rugby

Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi used to tell his players: "Football is not a contact sport. Kissing is a contact sport. Football is a collision sport." When two huge people run head-on into each other, the impact can be tremendous.

      Although it is a violent sport, football does not lead the sports injury list. Yes, a lot of football players get injured, but other athletes have higher injury rates, such as gymnasts and aerobics instructors. And many football injuries can be prevented, particularly for the nation's more than 1 million amateur football players.

      I don't mean to give the impression that football isn't a dangerous sport. Each year, a few dozen football players under age 30 die suddenly. (About the same number die playing basketball.) Many of these players, however, had undiagnosed heart conditions, and any physical exertion would have led them to the brink of death.

      Although injuries do occur in football, the boys who play in organized Pop Warner football leagues do not have a high injury rate. I see more cycling and skateboarding injuries in this age group. Because they are smaller and don't run very fast, the boys don't hit each other very hard. Also, these leagues match players by age and size.

      I generally see the most severe football injuries in high school freshmen, who may have to go up against bigger, more physically developed opponents. If a skinny, 120-pound 15-year-old has to go up against a muscular, 180-pound 15-year-old, it's obvious who is more likely to be injured.

      Because football is a collision sport, all but the most superficial bumps and bruises should be seen by a health professional, either a trainer, a nurse, a doctor, or an emergency medical technician.

HEAD INJURIES

Despite the introduction of water, air, and suspension helmets, which have improved head protection, head injuries do occur in football and can be very dangerous. The most common head injury is a concussion. A player who suffers a concussion must not return to the game under any circumstance and should be watched after the game for signs of neurological changes. If the player is sleepy, is nauseous, vomits, has a severe headache, or is confused, he should go to the hospital immediately. Before he plays again, he will have to be cleared for action by a doctor.

NECK INJURIES

For most of his career, Giants All-Pro linebacker Harry Carson had a useless deltoid muscle in one shoulder. The muscle, which comes out of the point of the shoulder, had totally atrophied. A violent blow to Harry's neck early in his career tore the nerve that supplies this muscle.

      In practice, Harry trained other muscles to help lift the arm. When Harry wore his football uniform, no one knew the difference since one shoulder pad was built up more than the other. Now that he's in the real world and he wears a suit, you notice that one shoulder is much smaller than the other.

A "Burner" versus a Stretch

In a televised game it is common to see a player run off the field with his arm down at his side, only to return a few minutes later. Such a player has suffered a "burner," which is a burning pain down the arm caused by a pinched nerve in the neck. This usually results from the player taking a hit that rolls his head and neck to the side that experiences the pain. The severe pain disappears in a few minutes, and the player's arm and grip strength return completely. As soon as the pain is gone, he is ready to go back in.

      We do two tests on the sideline to check a player's grip and arm strength. To test grip strength, I have the player squeeze two of my fingers with each of his hands and I see if there's a difference. To test arm strength, I have the player hold both arms straight out and I push down on each arm. If one arm stays up and the other goes down, the second arm is still weak.

      A more serious injury with the same symptoms is a brachial plexus stretch. In this case, the pain and weakness don't quickly disappear, and the pain is felt on the same side of the neck as the blow. The impact, usually from making a tackle, stretches the network of nerves (brachial plexus) that supply the arm.

      This injury may take weeks or months to heal. Nerves are the slowest-healing tissues, and there's nothing you can do but rest. You must wait until your arm strength returns completely. A weak arm is more susceptible to a second injury, which could cause permanent nerve damage.

      A player returning from a burner or a brachial plexus stretch should wear a roll collar to protect the neck. The collar should ride up to the back rim of the helmet; a small collar tied down to the shoulder pads, which is the way most high school players wear it, has no value. A collar with high sides, like an orthopedic collar, prevents you from flexing your neck too much in any one direction.

Causes of Neck Injuries

Neck injuries end lives or lead to paraplegia more commonly among young players, who don't know the proper techniques to protect themselves. The pros are more likely to sprain their necks rather than break them because they tackle with the head up.

      Poor tackling technique is the main cause of compression fractures among football players. You hear coaches say, "Put your head in the ball carrier's numbers," which means to catch him right in the chest with the top of your helmet. This is called spearing and is illegal, but it is still taught by some coaches. The spearer can break his neck, and the ball carrier can break his breast bone if he is hit below the shoulder pads.

      Ducking the head during a tackle can also cause a fracture. This injury usually happens to a small defensive back, particularly a high school player, who faces a much larger tight end or running back coming right at him. The defensive player runs up to make the tackle and, at the last minute, decides this is not such a good idea. So he closes his eyes and ducks his head as he makes the hit, and he ends up breaking his neck. A new chin strap that prevents a player from dropping his head too low may help prevent this injury.

      Another way players break their necks is by taking a knee to the crown of the head. Helmets are specifically shaped to deflect this kind of blow, but they don't always work as intended.

      Heads are now so well protected by helmets that players are not afraid to use them as weapons. Neck injuries are on the rise while head injuries are on the decline. No helmet design can protect the neck. I'd prefer that players take the face mask off the helmet and learn other tackling techniques, as rugby players have done. I'd rather see a broken nose than a broken neck.

      If you are a football player and you experience neck pain, do not take off your helmet. A properly fitted helmet is tight and will exert a great deal of pressure on the neck if it is not removed correctly. Leave this to the doctor in the emergency room. The face mask is held on by rubber loops, and these can be cut to remove the mask. Then you can be attended to without risking further injury to the neck.

SHOULDER INJURIES

Separation

A sprain or tear of the ligament that connects the collarbone to the shoulder joint can lead to separation of the shoulder. This usually occurs from falling on the point of the shoulder or falling on the point of the elbow, which drives the shoulder upward.

      You can do nothing to treat this sprain but rest. If the sprain is mild, rest for 7 to 10 days. If it is moderate, rest until you are free of pain and full motion is possible. Ice the shoulder intermittently to help ease the initial pain.

      Only if the ligament is completely ruptured in a severe sprain should you have surgery. Six weeks after the surgery, you can begin shoulder-strengthening exercises.

Dislocation

A less common injury is a dislocated shoulder. When the rotator cuff muscles are stretched, the shoulder may come partway out of joint and then pop back in by itself, which is a partial dislocation. If the shoulder fully dislocates, a doctor will need to put it back in the socket.

      Once the shoulder is back in place, rest it for two weeks. Then rehabilitate the shoulder by strengthening the rotator cuff muscles.

BACK PROBLEMS

Lower-Back Pain

Football is a lifting sport: At times you have to literally lift up your opponent and move him out of the way. This overworks the muscles in the back and leads to muscle strains and spasms.

      Football players need to work on a back-strengthening and flexibility program. Weight lifting helps build strong, heavy muscles, but the muscles must also be lengthened with back stretches.

      A discrepancy in the lengths of your legs, even as little as a quarter-inch, can also cause lower-back pain. If you still feel pain after stretching your back regularly, have the lengths of your legs measured by a trainer or sports doctor.

A Cracked Back

If you are hit in the back with a helmet, you can crack the body of a vertebra. This fracture, called spondylolysis, can be seen on an x-ray. However, since some people are born with this type of spinal deformity, you may need a bone scan to determine whether the injury is new or old. If the injury is old or congenital, you can keep on playing. If it is new, you must rest for six months while the fracture heals.

      If the fracture doesn't heal, then the vertebra may slip forward and compress the spinal cord. If this happens, hang up your football shoes. Any subsequent back injury could lead to paralysis. Engaging in other sports is fine, except for diving and gymnastics, in which you have to arch your back violently. If there is no vertebral slip, you may continue all activities, including football.

      I see a few young football players with this injury every year. Usually, the victim is an offensive lineman who gets hit while trying to lift a defensive lineman out of the way.

      Another type of back fracture involves the wing at the lower part of a vertebra, which is where the back muscle attaches to the spine. If you are hit in the back, this wing can crack. This usually happens to running backs who get hit with a helmet from behind.

      This is a more painful but less serious injury. Rest your back and take anti-inflammatory agents to help ease the pain, which usually disappears within a few weeks. Once the pain is gone, you can play, with extra back padding to protect the wing.

HIP POINTER

A fall on the hip or some other blow to the pelvis can cause a painful hip pointer, which is a bruise to the rim of the pelvis. That's why all football players, including recreational players, should wear hip pads.

BRUISED KIDNEY

A helmet blow to the kidney can bruise it. This painful injury can be serious because the kidney could rupture, requiring emergency surgery.

      If you feel sharp pain inside your body after taking a hit on the side, seek medical help immediately. You should have your urine checked for signs of blood, including microscopic amounts. Then you need to rest and avoid any contact until the pain and bleeding are gone. This may take a week or two, or even longer, depending on the severity of the kidney bruise.

      In 1985 Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler sustained a bruised kidney in an exhibition game, and he missed the entire season because of persistent pain and blood in his urine.

BRUISED RIBS

A quarterback can suffer bruised ribs when he is hit while making a throw. The same thing can happen to a wide receiver when he stretches to catch the ball. Raising the arm in the air lifts the shoulder pad and exposes the ribs.

      All professional quarterbacks now wear flak-jacket-type rib pads. Most wide receivers take their chances and, when they run a pass pattern over the middle and the quarterback throws the ball too high, simply brace themselves for a blow to the ribs.

WRIST SPRAIN

A sprained wrist is a common injury among linemen. A lineman's job in pass blocking is to put his hands forward to hold off an onrushing opponent. With a 290-pound opposing player charging like a bull, you can see why an offensive lineman is susceptible to sprained wrists.

      Touch football or high school football players often use elastic bandages to support their wrists, but this has little effect, as the bandage simply stretches.

      Most of the Giants' offensive linemen now wear plastic braces to protect their wrists. The brace prevents the wrist from being extended back too far, to the point of spraining, yet preserves the wrist's normal range of motion. These braces are custom-made. A plaster cast is molded to the wrist, and then cut off and shipped to a brace manufacturer. The cost of these individually designed braces makes them prohibitive for most amateur athletes.

BRUISED QUAD

A football player who takes a blow to the thigh from a helmet can get a bruised quadriceps. This is particularly common among high school players; the equipment may not fit properly, and the thigh pad slips to one side, allowing the helmet to strike the quadriceps muscle. Many pro football players wear oversized thigh pads to protect against this injury. Giants running back O. J. Anderson has very large thighs, but some of that size is due to heavy padding.

LEG MUSCLE PULLS

Pulled leg muscles cost players more playing time than any other injury. That's why we have the Giants spend so much time on flexibility exercises.

      If one of the bunchy muscles in the leg (calf, thigh, hamstring, groin) is put in an awkward position, it will pull. In football, this often occurs when the leg is stretched out as a ball carrier is tackled. Also, football is one of the few sports often played on a wet, icy surface, so your feet can easily come out from under you.

      In running sports such as football, a player has a tendency to lengthen the stride and stress the hamstrings. Also, any sudden twisting or sideways movement can stress the groin muscles.

      The treatment for a pulled muscle is to rest it and ice it frequently over several days. On about the third day after the injury, begin a slow, gentle stretching program. When the muscle feels better, you can begin to restrengthen it with resistance exercises. When you can stretch the pulled muscle without pain as far as you can stretch the one on your good side, you're ready to be reactivated.

KNEE INJURIES

Knee injuries are occupational hazards in football. From high school players to the pros, knee injuries have ended more careers than any other type of injury.

      All knee injuries should be iced and examined by a doctor as soon as possible. Even minimal trauma to the knee can cause serious damage. For a less serious injury, an adequate rehabilitation program can bring the knee back to full strength and prevent a second injury.

Runner's Knee

A person with runner's knee experiences pain around the back of the knee or behind the kneecap after running. The pain is due to the kneecap rubbing on the side of its groove due to an improper foot strike. The amount of pain depends on the degree of pronation and the length of time spent running each week.

      The pain may not bother football players much in the off-season, but they feel it as soon as they put on cleats. When you run in cleats, only a small area of your foot comes in contact with the ground, decreasing stability.

      Playing on grass is worse than playing on artificial turf. If a cleat on the inside part of your shoe digs into the ground, your foot will tend to roll toward the inside. On the hard surface of artificial turf, no cleat digs in more than any other.

Jumper's Knee

The quadriceps and patellar tendons that connect, respectively, above and below the kneecap can become inflamed from overuse. This is known as jumper's knee, as it is these tendons and the muscles attached to them that lift the body in the jumping motion. The patellar tendon can also become irritated if you fall on it, which happens often in football.

Knee Tears

Most knee injuries involve the cartilage or ligaments and result from a blow to the outside of the knee with the foot planted in the ground. If you feel pain on the same side as the blow, you probably have just bruised your knee. Rest it and ice it intermittently for a few days. However, if the pain is on the side opposite the blow, the knee joint has probably broken open. Consider this a serious injury.

      The second most common means of injury is stressing the knee by rotating it quickly. Typically, a lineman plants his foot and turns to go upfield. He can tear his knee apart even without anyone hitting him.

      The most common injury from this type of lateral rotation of the knee is a cartilage tear, which can cause your knee to buckle or lock up on you. Get to a doctor as soon as possible. The wonders of arthroscopic surgery can remove the torn part of cartilage and get you back in action in three to four weeks.

      Ligament injuries are rarer but are much more serious. Even the mildest sprain or smallest tear to a ligament requires rest and a strenuous rehabilitation program under a physical therapist's guidance. Large ligament tears call for surgical repair to stabilize the knee. Some of these tears cannot be fixed through the arthroscope and require 6 to 12 months of rehabilitation to strengthen the knee. For others, new arthroscopic procedures and rehabilitation techniques can reduce the rehabilitation time to less than 6 months.

Terrible Triad of O'Donohue

When someone says they "blew out a knee," they usually mean that they tore a ligament or two. But the worst possible knee injury involves tearing two ligaments, the medial collateral and the anterior cruciate, and the medial cartilage all at once. This devastating injury is called the Terrible Triad of O'Donohue, named after the doctor who described it, and requires complete surgical repair and a long period of rehabilitation.

Dislocated Kneecap

A dislocated kneecap is a fairly common football injury. A blow to the inside of the knee can cause the kneecap to dislocate to the outside. Usually the kneecap pops back in place by itself, or a physician can pop it back in. If the muscles around the knee go into spasm, a muscle relaxant can make it easier to put the kneecap back in place.

      Sometimes surgery is needed to repair the tissues that hold the kneecap in place. Even if your kneecap pops back in, have it x-rayed to make sure that a piece of bone has not been knocked off under the surface.

Bracing the Knee

In 1983 the Giants' medical staff strongly recommended that all linemen wear protective knee braces. Only about half of them did. Then defensive lineman Dee Hardison was hit on the knee in training camp. The hit completely destroyed his steel brace, yet he didn't even need to ice the knee. The next day, everyone else came to see the staff for knee braces.

      The jury is still out on the question of whether a brace can protect a healthy knee against injury. The knee is the most common site of injury, particularly the medial collateral ligament. A brace can protect this ligament from a blow from the side.

      Some studies suggest that braces may not prevent knee injuries among football players. However, the most definitive study, done at West Point, did show a positive effect from using the lateral knee brace as a preventive. I know of at least four Giants whose careers were saved by wearing a brace to protect the knee from severe hits.

      I feel that bracing is particularly effective for linemen and linebackers, and I believe that these players, at all levels, should wear them. High school teams that have the money should purchase braces and require all players to wear them. Weekend flag football players probably don't take shots to the knee that often and can do without braces, unless they already have knee injuries.

SHIN SPLINTS

"Shin splints" is a generic term for various kinds of lower leg pain related to a poor foot strike.

      If you are a pronator, or if you have a Morton's foot and roll to the inside of your big toe, try a commercial arch support in your football shoe. If this does not ease your pain in a few weeks, have a sports doctor take an x-ray to check on the possibility of a fracture. If there is no fracture, a podiatrist can prepare a custom-made orthotic.

      If you feel pain on the outside part of your lower leg, you may be stressing the small fibula bone. You probably have a supinating foot with a high, rigid arch, causing you to run predominantly on the outside of your foot. Put padding along the outside edge of your football shoe. If the pain does not disappear within a few weeks, see a podiatrist for an orthotic.

ANKLE INJURIES

During the 1989 season, Lawrence Taylor had a piece of broken bone in his ankle but insisted on playing. Our orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Russell Warren, felt that LT could do no further damage. LT decided he could deal with the excruciating pain and played on a heavily braced ankle. I certainly do not recommend this for any ordinary mortal. LT, however, does not fit into that category.

      A player who steps into a divot or turns hard upfield can sprain an ankle. Usually the foot and ankle will roll to the outside, spraining the ligaments on the outside of the ankle. Anything but the most minimal sprain should be x-rayed to make sure the ankle isn't broken.

      Some football players, such as offensive linemen, may be able to continue playing on a badly sprained ankle. But most players need to cut back and forth diagonally, which requires a healthy ankle.

      If a Giants player says he can't run on a sprained ankle, we don't force him to return to the game. If he says it hurts, it's hard for me to refute him. On the other hand, if he says he can play, then it's up to the medical staff, along with the coach, to decide whether to send him in again. If the sprain is severe, we take a precautionary x-ray before making our decision. We don't want a player running on a broken ankle.

ACHILLES TENDINITIS

Pain, swelling, and tenderness in the tendon above the heel indicates Achilles tendinitis. The tendon becomes inflamed either from tightness or from excessive pronation of the ankle.

      If you experience these symptoms, rest your Achilles tendon and ice it several times a day until it feels better. Anti-inflammatory agents can help relieve the pain and swelling.

      If you are a pronator, put an arch support in your football shoe to correct the inward roll of your foot. You also need to work on stretching your Achilles tendon and calf muscle: Use the Wall Push-up and the Heel Drop.

HEEL PAIN

Players commonly complain of heel pain early in the football season. Usually, the pain is due to excessive pronation of the ankle, which puts undue strain on the inside of the heel. Wearing cleats can aggravate this condition.

      Football shoes now come in three different widths and are equipped with a heel counter to stabilize the heel. Particularly if you have a pronating foot, you need to try different shoes and choose the one that gives you the best support. Then put an arch support inside the shoe. Your pain should disappear almost immediately.

      If you have a problem with persistent heel pain, practice in sneakers and wear cleats only for games.

ARCH PAIN

A dull ache in the arch of the foot is due to stretching or tearing of the tissue that holds up the arch, the plantar fascia. This elastic tissue runs along the length of the bottom of the foot.

      You need to prop up the arch to relieve the pain. An arch support prevents the arch from collapsing and, therefore, the plantar fascia from stretching. You can also use athletic tape along the length and across the bottom of the foot to support the arch.

TURF TOE

"Turf toe," which is a sprain of the joint at the base of the big toe, usually occurs on artificial turf. Artificial turf, which is usually laid on macadam, is much less forgiving than grass. Running backs, receivers, and defensive backs who drive off the big toe to get a quick first step are the most susceptible to turf toe. I rarely see turf toe in nonprofessional players because only a small percentage of high school games are played on artificial turf.

HEAT EXHAUSTION AND HEAT STROKE

Football players have a special problem with heat. Summer practices and warm-weather games played with a full load of equipment covering the body can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke (see Chapter 3).

      If the weather is hot, keep as much skin surface exposed as possible. Wear short-sleeved mesh shirts and short socks, and take your helmet off as soon as you leave the playing field. If possible, cut off the bottom of your shirt to expose your stomach. Every square inch of exposed body surface is important.

      Salt tablets have no place anywhere near a football field. They actually contribute to dehydration. The large dose of salt can be absorbed from the stomach only in a dilute solution, and your body must bring in fluid from the tissues to dilute the salt. This makes you more susceptible to heat exhaustion.

      Heat exhaustion results from the loss of fluids and natural body salts (electrolytes) through sweating. Your skin becomes cold and clammy, and your muscles cramp up. You may lose coordination and become disoriented. If you are suffering from heat exhaustion, stop playing immediately, drink liquids, and get to a cool, dry environment.

      Heat stroke is a medical emergency that represents failure of the body's internal thermostat. The player's skin becomes hot and dry, he stops sweating, and he loses consciousness. Body temperature may rise to 108° F. Unless the body temperature is brought down quickly, the player may die.

      If a player has these symptoms, immerse him in ice and get him to an emergency room. Notify the hospital that you are on the way so that the technicians can prepare cooling equipment. Minutes count. This is one of the leading causes of death on the football field.

PREVENTING FOOTBALL INJURIES

Football injuries can be prevented through sound coaching techniques, enforcement of the rules, use of proper equipment, and the presence of health professionals at games and practices. In Pop Warner games, coaches should stay on the field to instruct young players on proper blocking and tackling techniques. The coaches should join the huddle and then stand 10 to 15 yards behind the play. The goal of these games is to instruct players, not to motivate them to win.

      If you are involved in any form of organized football, from a Pop Warner team to a weekend flag football league, make sure that the officials enforce the rules. Clipping, or hitting a player in the legs from behind, can break a leg or tear knee ligaments, depending on what gives way. Grabbing the face mask can break a neck. Piling on can break a leg. Head slapping with the forearm can perforate an eardrum. If the officials overlook such infractions, players may think they can get away with anything.

      If your equipment is not first-class, your team should not be on the field. Playing with inexpensive, shoddy equipment can be worse than playing with none. Helmets should be reconditioned and recertified every two years. Protective pads can wear down, and pants can lose their stretch so that the thigh pads slip, leaving a player vulnerable to a disabling thigh bruise.

      The equipment should also fit properly. In high school, the freshmen usually get the short end of the stick; they get what's left over after the upperclassmen are outfitted. With their oversized helmets and shoulder pads, they look like those bobbing-headed dolls you see attached to dashboards.

      The area that needs the most improvement is availability of medical help on the scene. Some 60 percent of all high school football injuries occur during practice, when no trainer, nurse, doctor, or emergency medical technician is present. Without proper screening of injuries, high school players often aggravate injuries or suffer additional injuries.

      At the recreational level, medical supervision of games is practically unheard of. The players and coaches must be responsible for applying first aid and getting help for an injured player.

ULTIMATE FRISBEE

Tossing a Frisbee® in the park hardly seems dangerous, but I have seen some very serious injuries from the competitive form of Frisbee, called ultimate Frisbee. This game, which basically is football played without pads and using a Frisbee rather than a ball, can lead to shoulder separations and dislocations as well as arm and wrist fractures from hitting the ground with the arms extended.

      A mild shoulder separation may need only rest, but a severe one may require surgical repair. Shoulder dislocations need a period of immobilization followed by an intensive rehabilitation program to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles, as illustrated in Chapter 6. Any broken bone should be splinted immediately. If you feel severe pain, even if there is no sign of a deformity, have the bone splinted and x-rayed to check for a fracture.

RUGBY

Rugby is similar in many ways to football, but the tackling technique is very different and leads to different injuries. Neck injuries are almost unheard of because a rugby player does not use his head to tackle an opponent. He learns to tackle with his head up and out of the way, using his shoulder instead. Without a helmet, the head is not a weapon as it is in football.

SHOULDER INJURIES

Because the shoulder takes the brunt of a rugby tackle, it is a major problem area. Hitting an opponent without the protection of a football player's shoulder pads leads to collarbone bruises, shoulder separations, and even partial or full shoulder dislocations.

KNEE INJURIES

Knee injuries are less common in rugby than in football because of the open-field tackling technique. Most rugby tackles are made around the upper body rather than around the legs. A low tackle might lead to a blow to the head from a knee, so rugby players use their shoulders and arms to drag the ball carrier down.

      Also, a rugby play doesn't begin with tightly packed formation at the line of scrimmage, where so many injuries occur in football from a blow to the side of the knee. The only tight formation in rugby is the scrum, and it is here that most knee injuries occur, as a player falls on or is pushed into the side of another player's knee, leading to sprains and tears.

ANKLE SPRAINS

Ankle sprains are common because rugby is a running sport that is often played on uneven, uncared-for fields.

CUTS AND BRUISES

The lack of protective equipment and the constant banging of bodies in rugby leads to cuts and bruises all over a player's body. Stop any bleeding by compressing the cut, and ice down a bruise for 20 minutes at a time, off and on, for a day or two to limit swelling.


How to Improve Your Game

The most important thing a football player can do is improve his conditioning. Statistics show that injuries tend to occur at the end of a half because players are fatigued.

      Proper warmup, warmdown, and flexibility exercises can help you avoid muscle pulls. Warmdown and stretch after exercising to avoid soreness and stiffness the next day.

      Weekend football players need total body stretching, but should concentrate on the lower body, which is where most muscle pulls in football occur.

      Strength training is equally important, and it may be the reason the Giants won their two Super Bowls. The Giants were a very strong second-half team because they would wear down opponents with their strength and endurance. Because of the excellent training program organized by strength coach Johnny Parker, the Giants' players believed that they were better than the other team. If you think you are better, you will play better.

      The pros never used to train with weights during the season. Then someone discovered that players grow weaker as the season progresses. Now we have players work out with weights at least two days a week all season long to maintain their strength.

      An overall strength-training program, working both the upper and the lower body, is important for football players at all levels. Use lighter weights and do many repetitions. This approximates what you will be doing on the field better than trying to lift a heavy weight once. Youngsters can start training with light weights at age 11, but not before.

      Running backs and defensive backs need to work on both upper- and lower-body strength. The upper body needs strength to make tackles or to take hits, depending on which side of the line you are on. The lower body must be strong so that you can run fast.

      Linemen, linebackers, and tight ends need a full-body workout plus extra back strengthening, since much of their activity involves lifting.

      Wide receivers need good lower-body strength to run fast and total body flexibility so that they can take hits while up in the air. Quarterbacks should work on improving arm strength to help them throw the ball farther.

      Ultimate Frisbee depends on quickness and agility. Run intervals of sprints to work on your quickness and conditioning, and practice the agility drills in Chapter 17.

      Rugby players need to improve their conditioning and endurance. Long-distance running, followed by interval speed work, is the best way to accomplish this.

      A rugby player should work on improving both upper- and lower-body strength. Lower-body strength provides the power to carry a would-be tackler, and upper-body strength helps improve the arms and shoulders to make it easier to tackle a ball carrier.




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