One of the overwhelming things I’ve seen happening in youth sports is that it’s become more dangerous for the kids. Yeah, that’s right, I said it. And I’m not talking about the typical helicopter parenting issues that you normally hear about, such as poor hockey pads or practice is too far away for the kids to walk home or whatever.
What I’m talking about is a lack of general movement. For those of you who have been following this blog for a while, that’s probably not a surprise. Getting lots of constant, varied movement is so important for kids, especially, since their muscles and most importantly their skeletons are still growing and being formed for their futures.
The overarching mentality for parents these days seems to be “get them into sports young!” And that’s fine… as long as it’s not dogma. I would totally rather see kids running and playing – climbing trees, swinging from monkey bars, racing with each other, playing hide and seek or kick the can, and testing their bodies in every way they can. But sports can be great, too, as long as it’s not ALL they do. Or, even more importantly, they’re doing more than one kind of sport.
But there’s this sick idea that getting kids to excel in ONE or even two sport(s) at a young age is the way to have them succeed, which is a load of junk. Kids need to try everything, I think, and they need to be able to find the things they like and/or excel at on their own.
What’s happening with the kids who are over-specializing at a young age? Well, they’re getting injured. And I’m not talking about bumps and bruises. For example: the risk for ACL injuries – that is, the Anterior Cruciate Ligament tears in knees that frequently sideline NFL players for a season – has started to increase for girls age 12 to 13 and boys 14 to 15. That is scary. These are injuries that were nearly unheard of a generation ago, but are becoming widespread now.
And there are other problems, as well. My wife is a youth swim coach, as you may know, and she has reported swimmers as young as twelve with repetitive stress injuries such as tendonitis.
The answer, of course, is more varied and regular movement than a sport frequently gives you. Even a sport as free-moving as soccer or lacrosse has such injuries – see the link above for info about soccer players – and a background in physical, imaginative play at a young age has been shown to be the big factor that improves it.
So enough of the rant, and on to the good stuff. My wife asked me to come out to one of her practices the other day and show some of her swimmers some exercises that would supply that varied movement. Swimmers will frequently do what is referred to as “dryland” exercises because swimming, while a great general conditioner, tends to be lacking in exercises that force the body to support itself, and has led to skeletal issues for some people. Also, it’s notorious for the repetitive stress injuries as I mentioned above.
She warned the kids that they were going to see some stuff with me that they probably hadn’t ever seen before, and I was very happy to be able to deliver on that promise.
We started with some simple squats and stretches while I explained the reasoning behind doing such exercises for dryland. And then we launched into “the weird stuff.” For kids who were raised on the typical hurdler stretches, push-ups, sit-ups, and such, it was an eye opener when I launched into some of the MovNat and Animal Flow movements.
I’ve mentioned MovNat a lot, but Animal Flow, I may not have mentioned. It’s an animal-form-based workout created by Mike Fitch of Global Bodyweight Training, and it’s one of my favorite types of workouts. I find it to be great for swimmers especially because of the multi-dimensional shoulder mobility work, the core twisting and stretching, the hip and knee work, and the overall need for the practitioners to support and move their bodies in multiple dimensions, frequently in the same exercise.
The warmup was a great example of what we’d be doing. Here’s a great video of some of the exercises we did to start off:
And then we launched into the animal movements themselves, which Animal Flow calls the Traveling Beast, the Traveling Ape, and the Traveling Crab. You can see some of these techniques here.
But we didn’t just move forward and backward. Nope. We moved sideways, too. We got those shoulders, knees, and cores working in ways that even the 16-year old soccer player/swimmer in my group hadn’t ever tried before. And the kids were tired when we were done, for sure.
But here’s the great part – you could tell that they were receptive to these ideas because 1) they hadn’t had the idea that “weird” exercises are silly, or whatever, beat out of them yet. The stuff we were doing was fun – crawling around, and basically playing in the grass is great for all kids. And 2) they really seemed to understand the idea that exercise isn’t just about building muscle and burning calories – it’s about being ready for whatever life throws at you!
The one thing I would have loved to have them work on a bit more than we did was hanging and brachiation type exercises – again, specifically for those shoulders. No movement is better for the shoulders than swinging from a pole or log or what have you, and monkey bars are just about perfect for this. And getting the kids into the habit early to see monkey bars as an opportunity to move in ways that they don’t often get was so much fun.
So I am looking forward to a return to the team at some point to work more with them on this stuff. Yeah, they griped a bit, and rolled their eyes at me, but they listened and did everything I did (yeah, of COURSE I did this stuff with them!). And they were smiling as we did it!
It’s so fulfilling to pass a love of movement on to other people, and especially at a young age when it can really help them get something out of it and work it into their lifestyle. I’ve tried to do this with my kids and now I’m having the opportunity to branch out a bit, too. Can’t wait to do more with them!