The athletic training staff of the U.S. Women’s National Team does everything it can to make sure players have everything they need to stay healthy and at the top of their game.
That includes being proactive and focusing on identifying dysfunctional movements that may predispose elite athletes to future injury.
Sheri Walters, who has worked with the U.S. Women’s National Team program as an athletic trainer and physical therapist since 2016, explained that it’s part of a long-term process to help players reach their maximum potential through training, strength and conditioning, and more.
“We started doing quite a bit of testing, and we did it even before the Olympics,” Walters said. “We look at posture and movement patterns that can contribute to overuse injuries, or acute injuries like hamstring and groin strains, high-ankle sprains and knee injuries.
“When we’re doing testing, we’re looking for mobility and stability issues specific to hockey. We would put them on a corrective exercise program to give them more available range of motion, not only for injury prevention, but to create the stability they need to take a massive slap shot.”
Walters is part of a sports medicine team whose focus is on injury prevention and recovery.
“We try and assess and track the athletes over time,” Walters said. “We did an assessment in September, gave the athletes a lot of corrective exercises, so when we see them in November, we’ll have a chance to reassess.
“We build on it. It’s not that we’re being super reactive or waiting for an injury, we’re trying to track the athletes over an extended period of time.”
Walters was with the team for gold-medal performances at both the 2018 Olympic Winter Games as well as in Plymouth, Michigan, for the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship.
“The world championship was a huge deal, but getting to the Olympics, there really aren’t words to describe it because it was at a whole different level, and there was just a sense of it being bigger,” Walters said. “Personally, it’s one of my first memories, just sitting in front of the television and watching the Olympic Games, and it was a dream come true for me to be there, but you’re also helping 23 other people realize their childhood dream and you were seeing it through their eyes.”
Walters, an assistant professor at A.T. Still University, also served as part of the medical staff for the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Team. She has served as the director of performance physical therapy for EXOS, and on the medical staff for the Detroit Shock of the Women’s National Basketball Association, in addition to working with the University of Florida and Indiana State University.
Walters, who has also worked with elite athletes like Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, stressed a functional athletic base for long-term success and career longevity.
“You have to have a foundational athletic base and strength on top of that from an injury prevention standpoint,” Walters said. “With hockey, there’s a huge skill component, but there’s also a foundation for athletic performance.”
Walters and the rest of the athletic training staff aren’t with the athletes on a daily basis. They conduct testing in September and won’t see athletes again until November.
“We rely on their feedback,” Walters said. “They can work with their coach at home, athletic trainer at college or physical trainer and they are in contact with us. We’re working with those staffs, so it’s definitely a team effort working with various universities and strength and conditioning coaches.”
That kind of teamwork has helped the U.S. capture the last four IIHF Women’s World Championships and three Four Nations Cup tournament titles.
The U.S. seeks to continue that run and make it four straight at this year’s Four Nations Cup, which is set for Nov. 6-10, at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
“Sports medicine and team psychologists often talk about the aggregation of marginal gains, so if you improve by 1 percent every day, every week or every month, you’re going to be in a different spot four years from now,” Walters said. “With mobility, they’re small gains, but they make a huge difference. I’m trying to help as many individuals stay healthy and perform at a high level to help them make the team.
“If each player makes small gains, the more people we have available to make the roster. That’s our goal, to be able to continue to win tournaments.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.