Massage & Bodywork

MAY | JUNE 2016

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"Kids Are Not Made of Rubber" A Conversation with Benny Vaughn About Sports Massage for Young Athletes By Karrie Osborn Does sports massage look different for a younger athlete than an adult athlete? According to sports massage therapist and industry leader Benny Vaughn, not so much. "Whether it's a 13-year-old body or a 23-year-old body, in my experience, muscles are muscles," says Vaughn, often heralded as the "father" of US sports massage. "What becomes most important is the strategy, not the technique, that the massage therapist takes to address the biomechanical challenge." Vaughn, owner of the Benny Vaughn Athletic Therapy Center in Fort Worth, Texas, has worked with some of the world's best athletes. He says with sports massage the client is typically looking for a reduction of pain or discomfort that interferes with their athletic performance. That's true whether they are young or old. And Vaughn's approach to that pain or discomfort is the same, no matter the age. With an injured hamstring, for example, Vaughn says he employs the same strategy and the same work for both the young and adult athlete. One might think that with smaller bodies, there should be more gentle touch, but Vaughn says that's not the case. "The difference is not in the age, but in the condition of the muscle/tendon/fascia," he says. That's what dictates the pressure of touch. "And that adjustment should be made for all clients, regardless of age." A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO COMMUNICATION One component that is different when working with young athletes, however, is communication. "I talk to a 13-year-old a little differently than a 23-year-old," Vaughn says. "In both cases, I explain in understandable detail why and what I'm doing, so that they are a well-informed athlete. The difference in approach is how you handle the maturity of the individual." So, for a 13-year-old, Vaughn might avoid the use of overly complicated medical terms or he might explain what he's doing in a functional way and tie it into the relationship of the athlete's performance. "The touch, however, is the same for all bodies," he says. Age and maturity have nothing to do with the contact that's administered. RESILIENT, BUT NOT MADE OF RUBBER Vaughn reminds therapists and parents alike to remember that as resilient as kids are, young athletes tax their bodies in the same ways adult athletes do. "Kids are not made of rubber, and kids just don't bounce back from an injury simply because they're young," he says. "That's a misconception that many parents and some sports medicine practitioners think. In fact, any unaddressed dysfunction in a young athlete's soft tissue can stay with them for years." Vaughn says he sees it all the time with his college athlete clients: the dysfunction he finds in their tissues often unravels to reveal an injury that occurred at a much younger age. If a child athlete is injured, he says, address it just as you would with an adult athlete and help parents understand that the "they'll-bounce-back" mantra is a misnomer. FOOD FOR THOUGHT Vaughn sends us away with this thought when talking about the young athlete and why those in sports medicine, particularly massage therapists, are so important to the conversation: "There is no prerequisite to be a youth sports coach in America. Think about this—as a massage therapist, I'm required to have continuing education, to have a knowledge of anatomy and kinesiology, to be licensed, certified, and vetted yearly to do what I do. If you want to be a youth coach, you just simply show up." He says the uninformed coach, who has little knowledge about the human body, and who overtrains his or her athletes, can create serious problems. "The really good coaches rely on their sports-care professionals." Karrie Osborn is senior editor at Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals. Sports Massage

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