Working with young athletes as well having a few of my own around the house has made me acutely aware of the competitive atmosphere in youth sport. Similar to adults in the search for the perfect diet pill, there is a drive for the young athlete to find the perfect ‘athlete pill’ that will excel them to the top of their sport of choice.
As in the case of the ‘diet pill” there is no simple magic “athlete pill”. The difference between the two is that adults tend to be driven to find the answer with little work. Youth on the other hand often hit the ends of the spectrum and are increasingly finding injuries of both the traumatic and overuse origin.
Not long ago Dr. James Andrews highlighted many of the issues facing youth. He has began a movement to combat this trend which you can read more about <HERE>
Parents be sure to take a close read of Dr Andrews interview. The health of your child may depend upon it.
Today I see kids coming into the high school level in a few different extremes.
- Fat – Yes the trends in youth are very much following the trends for adults. Increasing waistlines and obesity are far more common place than i years past. Youth in athletics tend to have better body composition, but this issue is still present.
- Floppy Yet Stiff – By this I mean generally weak in the core, inflexible, and lacking coordination. These kids have been active to some extent, but have likely spent plenty of time performing sedentary tasks outside of those activities.
- Primed – These kids have obviously been active, competitive, and preparing themselves for their chosen sport activity.
While fat and floppy are not good things at all, there is great potential for finding solutions when provided the proper influences and an appropriately progressive programs design mixed with some common sense nutritional criteria.
“Primed” youth fall into a couple categories of their own. Many are natural athletes that are benefiting and taking advantage of their genetic potential. They participate in a variety of sporting activities and progress their training in a manner that encourages a foundation of core strength, coordination, and ability to utilize full range of motion throughout movement.
The key to the above primed athlete is the proper progression, which includes plenty of variety, in the activities they participate in. When that progression and variety are not followed there is a poor foundation which can lead to many negative outcomes in both the near and long term.
Similar to what Dr. Andrews rails against, I see many in-coming high school athletes who have tried to train and prepare like a pro athlete. They have specialized in a specific sport (or two or three – yes, ‘specialize’ in three)… And/Or they train with olympic lifts, plyometrics, and high intensity intervals and yet cannot hold a simple plank for more than a minute.
Don’t get me wrong, the above mentioned training activities are fine if the foundation is the first emphasis. And, Specialization is fine if done with elements of variety that provide the mind and body to utilize various plans of movement and energy systems on a planned basis. Without these elements overuse or traumatic injuries are near and at a higher likelihood of happening.
**Parents, take a good look at your influence on these areas. Middle schoolers and even younger following their parents favorite workout, or that of a favorite pro athlete, or pretty much anything not designed and progressed for a new exerciser is a potential danger. Going from sport 1 practice to sport two practice day after day is also a potential danger. And, performing the same sport year round without physical and creative variety is also a potential danger. While I have been fairly judicious with my own kids in building a foundation of core strength and coordination year prior to teaching advanced conditioning techniques, I have fallen and placed my own kids in position for potential overuse injuries. As a matter of fact I can point to where exactly that has happened. The drive to specialize in this case can and will create a potential hazard that will cause setback rather than gain for your child as it did for my own.
I have an eye out for each of these types of kids as I meet them coming into the high school program. Each has different physical and emotional needs to help them prepare for their sport as well as a healthy and active life. I’m not even close to having it all figured out and each of these kids teaches me something new. Parents and athletes alike need to be aware of the potential dangers highlighted here and take action before the overuse or traumatic injury occurs.
We address and evaluate a progressive series of exercises and workouts prior to having our new athletes move to the advanced exercises or programs. Some move more quickly through it because they have a solid foundation and others may spend a couple months building that foundation. When the foundation of stability and movement are understood the advances come more quickly as well as more safely.
Don’t run before you have learned to walk and remember that at times we run and walk in multiple directions and at different speeds. Proper progression and variety are important to helping the Fat, Floppy, as well as the Primed young athlete.