The Young Athlete
What would you rather your child learn to drive in? A Ford Fiesta or a Ferrari?
You’d say let them scratch the alloys and take a few corners too tight in the low powered Fiesta where the cost of a mistake is relatively low compared to a Ferrari where speed, power and price is far greater.
The same can be said for a young athlete. You want to make sure they’re getting mistakes out of their system when they’re not strong or powerful enough to hurt themselves. After all you rarely hear of a youngster tearing an ACL or hamstring, they’re simply not strong or powerful enough to do that… yet.
Too often coaches train a child for their sport rather than for life. We must ensure first and foremost children learn to move like a human, then move like an athlete, then move like a sport specialised athlete.
This is why between the ages of 2-12, mastering Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) are paramount and provide the building blocks for confident and competent movement at an early age, that will act as the foundations from which more advanced skills can be developed throughout their athletic career.
Coaches and parents alike must recognise if your child can’t push, pull, bend, twist, squat, lunge, brace they’ve got no business running, jumping, landing, catching and if they can’t do these general movement patterns then they’ve got no business trying to build sports specific skill on top of that let, alone in a competitive environment. It’s like building a house on sand!
Children’s bodies are incredibly adaptable and learn to compensate for poor skill technique easily. Sometimes this will result in a minor injury or could become masked all together. The problem here arises when your child enters an age where they are ready to develop the physical qualities (12yrs- onwards) of strength and power, where the risk of injury and the cost of inefficient movement goes up.
So, if we want create physically literate children; developing FMSs around play in an unstructured manner is key. Think hop-scotch to develop sidestepping skills for example. The starting point is to introduce and teach isolated movements that help to master simple skills. Long term, aim to teach children to link movements and combine multiple skills for example, leaping links to catching, rotation and throwing in netballers. Which will then in turn lead proficient development of their sport-specific skills, like striking or tackling.
We mustn’t forget the benefits of strength training for children. When coached correctly, a strength development programme can reduce the risk of sports-related injuries as well as enhancing performance across most fitness components (plyometrics, endurance, agility, muscular power, running speed).
An effective and safe strength programme will focus on body weight exercises that reinforce FMSs, resistance band training and other low-level strength exercises/modalities. All exercises need to be of a level where the child can perform a minimum of 10-15 reps with fatigue but not muscle failure. After adolescence, increases in muscle mass as a result of increasing sex hormone concentrations will aid hypertrophy and performance in power exercises. This is where we need to be confident our child can safely drive their low power Fiesta before learning to drive a Ferrari.
If your child is struggling with injuries, seems limited in their mobility or struggles physically with their gross motor movements, maybe consider a trip to visit a paediatric Osteopath.
Here at Body Mechanix, a number of our Osteopaths have undertaken an extra 2 years of specialist paediatric training to enable professional and sound treatment of babies, young children and adolescents. So with that in mind, whether you bring a precious new-born or a strapping young adolescent, your children are in safe hands!!