Returning to Sports Safely: Fall 2021

Wednesday October 6, 2021

Returning to Sports Safely: Fall 2021

By Laura Simenson, DPT


For many young athletes, fall is more than a season – it’s a time to get back on the gridiron, soccer field, volleyball or tennis court, and cross-country or golf course. It’s time to get active, connect with friends, and enjoy some friendly (or fierce) competition. While things may still look a little different this fall, our youth can safely compete.


While athletes are eager to get back to a “normal” sports regimen, some caution, or at least heightened awareness of training volume should be at the front of all of our minds. Some of our school-age athletes’ injuries that we are seeing in the clinic over the past 1-2 months appear a result of playing “fitness catch-up” or due to continuous seasons stacked during 2021. We are also seeing a lot of increased adrenaline – athletes are so ecstatic to be playing their sport again that they push even harder to make up for their lost 2020 seasons.


We need to prepare our athletes for a safe return to their sports. This includes getting them ready before their seasons and paying attention to minor niggles that arise during their current seasons.



Don’t wait to start training! Depending on your athlete’s choice of sport, begin a workout routine now that includes endurance training, cardio training, strength training, and core strengthening.

Some sport-specific examples:

  • Football requires a lot of running, blocking, and skill-specific training such as throwing and catching. A strength and cardio plan will best support athletes and allow them to respond quicker to ball movements. Practice throwing and catching a football with a friend, parent, or teammate.
  • Soccer is heavy in endurance and cardio training because of the amount of running required, but sport-specific skill development is also important. Practice “juggling” a soccer ball alone or kicking a soccer ball around with a friend.
  • Volleyball requires quick bursts of movement to respond to ball placement, as well as skills training to accurately volley between teammates. Practice passing and spiking the ball with a teammate.
  • Tennis requires endurance and the ability to quickly respond to ball movements. Core and strength training can help but are less important. Play “wall ball” alone or practice full court with a friend.
  • Golf training is largely skill-building to hit the ball as far and as accurately as possible, but endurance and knowledge-building (to choose the right club for each shot) also play a role. Putting practice can turn an average player into an elite player. Discover new challenges by playing different courses.
  • Cross country is obviously running heavy, so young athletes need lots of endurance and cardio training. Core strengthening exercises (like planks or yoga) can also help. Explore different courses in your area to expand your skills.

Endurance and cardio training

Six weeks before your athlete’s sports season, we recommend all youth athletes begin endurance training, which includes running. Below is a sample schedule we recommend for high school athletes:

Week 1: Jog a mile every other day
Week 2: Jog 1.5 miles every other day
Week 3: Jog 2 miles every other day
Week 4: Jog a mile every day
Week 5: Jog 1.5 miles every day
Week 6: Jog 2 miles every day

If your athlete’s coach or athletic trainer recommends adding strength training to your athlete’s pre-season workout routine, you can modify the above to continue running every other day and alternate with strength training. How long your athlete should practice strength training will depend on their physical condition, sport, and specific recommendations.

Strength training

Strength training is more than lifting on weight machines in the school or public gym. With COVID-19 restrictions, we’ve learned how to be a bit more creative when it comes to strength training.

Many fall sports do not require heavy lifting – except perhaps football. Smaller weights – such as 5 lbs., 10 lbs., and 20 lbs. – are often effective at building strength for sports where agility is important (e.g., soccer, volleyball, cross-country).

While purchasing a private weight machine or a gym membership can be expensive, materials that use body resistance are relatively inexpensive and can produce the same great results. Body resistance training may include:

  • Free weights, such as barbells or dumbbells
  • Resistance bands, which provide resistance when stretched
  • Your body weight, which can be used in a variety of ways such as squats, push-ups, chin-ups, sit-ups, etc.

Skills training

In addition to endurance, cardio, and weight training, most young athletes also benefit from skills training to ramp-up specific skills used in their sport that has been dormant in recent months. Depending on your athlete’s sport, they can practice throwing, catching, kicking, hitting, passing, swinging, and more. Try different courses, practice with different friends, and build skills with each new turn.



It is best to address any strength, balance, coordination, and/or pain issues at least 4-6 weeks before the athlete’s sport begins. However, if an injury occurs during the season, it is best to contact a physical therapist as soon as possible to get the issue under control and return to full play faster.


To schedule an appointment, please call 970.561.7111