By Alex Maroko

In over 10 years of competitive basketball, I have sprained an ankle maybe once. Literally, just one time. Am I just really lucky? Maybe, but I don't think that's it (I say this as I knock on my wooden desk!). So if it's not because of luck, how have I been so, well, lucky? Knowledge and application. Now, allow me to hit you with some of both.

Ankle issues are WAY too common in high school or AAU basketball today. It seems like almost every player is currently getting over an ankle sprain, dealing with one or, even worse, about to experience one. Was it always this way? Did every basketball player always wear stuffy, restrictive ankle braces? Were ankle issues always such an omnipresent concern? Of course not.

Let's take an objective look at it. Back in the day, players wore low-top, non-restrictive Chuck Taylors. Few, if any, wore ankle braces.

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And you know what? Ankle sprains were never the epidemic we see today.

So, what's the difference between now and then?

* High-top, "clunky" shoes are rampant in today's game

* Everyone wears ankle braces to "protect" their ankle joint (kind of ironic as you'll soon see)

* Players play more games today than they ever have

Now, that we know what the differences are, let's look at why these things are causing this "ankle epidemic," in high school or AAU basketball today.

All joints affect all other joints. You may have heard of the "kinetic chain" before. This is what they were referring to. Your body is a network where one dysfunction in one place can cause issues in some completely different place on your body. Or it can cause issues in the joint right next to it (this will be for a different article in the future, but if you can't wait, find some information on the "mobility/stability continuum").

For most basketball players, they are lacking mobility in their ankle joint. Combined with high-top, clunky shoes and restrictive ankle braces, you're looking at a joint that has an imbalance between too much stability and not enough mobility.

Then, because the ankle joint isn't mobile enough, it might end up compensating for some stiffness and stability, which the foot should be taking care off. So your foot isn't stiff or stable enough, when in reality, collectively, it's a joint that usually needs more stability.

So what can we do as coaches or trainers for our basketball players to help them avoid ankle injuries in the future?

* Get them out of their ankle braces. Let them play around with moving around like that at first because it is going to feel weird for them at first to have such freedom at the ankle!

* Get to work on their ankle mobility using things like "drawing the alphabet", or using a band and performing eversions, inversions, flexions and extensions.

* Break up that scar tissue and adhesions they have all over their lower legs using a foam roller, lacrosse ball or even a tennis ball.

* Static stretching the gastroc and soleus can be helpful.

* Strengthening the anterior tibialis can also be helpful.

* Work on foot stability, strength and awareness.

Do your warm-ups barefoot, add some toe crunches in there and do a few sets of Lateral and Vertical Speed Line Jumps for 10-15 seconds too (once you think they're ready for it, this will come a little bit later in the program for the guys who really had some ankle issues).

We know that tons of high school and AAU basketball players struggle with ankle issues, and now we know that they don't have to! Take these solutions and let's make this epidemic a thing of the past.