I went to a great seminar this past weekend on youth training and strength and conditioning for youths. I took a huge amount away from it with the take home message of, If you get children and adolescence doing the right things early then you will solve many of the issues we have right now with obesity and injury in teenagers.
The presentations got me thinking about the role of a strength and conditioning coach and fitness professional in youth training and how best to get the benefits strength and conditioning for youths across to the schools and parents. Sometimes it can be a hard sell to a parent when you are asking for X amount to train what they consider the next big thing (their child). You highlight all the benefits of strength and conditioning for youths, such as the reduction in instances of injuries, the improved performance, better body composition and improved health factors, all which will lead to a more successful athlete. Yet they still debate if they have the money to pay for such support or if it’s a worthwhile investment. We are a culture of instant gratification and people want something straight away. Making the above mentioned progress takes time and the performance benefits may only been seen years down the line. Perhaps parents are not willing to invest in this as they want the results now. We should educate them that investing time and money at a young age will really pay off in the future.
So what if you don’t invest in quality strength and conditioning support for your child what are you faced with? (by child or youth I mean preadolescence ~8-13 years old). I’m not saying that hiring a strength and conditioning coach is the magical cure for all instances of injury and health issues faced by our children. I am saying that if you hire a good strength and conditioning coach you will reduce the instances and impact of a lot of the problems that our children face today. (I won’t touch on the issue of inactivity and obesity in our youths but effective strength and conditioning for youths can go a long way in reducing this also). However don’t just take my word for it check out some of the latest research in strength and conditioning for youths.
Here is an in-depth paper, in relation to strength and conditioning for youths –
National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Prevention of Pediatric Overuse Injuries – some highlights of the paper where :
- Preseason and in-season preventive training programs focusing on neuromuscular control, balance, coordination, flexibility, and strengthening of the lower extremities are advocated for reducing overuse injury risk, especially among pediatric athletes with a previous history of injury.
- All pediatric athletes should begin participating in a general fitness program, emphasizing endurance, flexibility, and strengthening, at least 2 months before the sport season starts.
- Pediatric athletes should be encouraged to participate in multiple sports and recreational activities throughout the year to enhance general fitness and aid in motor development.
As children your brain is like plastic, you can mold it and ingrain things so they become hard wired. Having young children work with an educated strength and conditioning coach that can instill optimum movement patterns, maintain and improve joint mobility and improve strength, will go a long way in helping them reach and exceed their athletic potential. Kids need to play and do as many movements, jumps, twist and turns as possible. Having competent strength and conditioning for youths will enable these young
children to learn to perform such movements as the clean, snatch, squat, allow them to get in good athletic positions and have the strength to be able to hold these positions. Teaching them these fundamental lifting patterns at a time when they have very little tightness in comparison to teenagers, and when their skill trainability is optimal, will save you a lot of time and efforts in the future. It will also educate them that strength and conditioning is not some bicep curls and bench press (how many times have you seen a young teenager go into the gym and knock out some curls and bench and then leave, thinking they had a great workout). Getting a child into strength and conditioning when they become a teenager can be too late, the coach will spend weeks and months correcting all the weakness’s and imbalances that the daily life of a modern day child has caused, of course gains and progress will be made but just how much did they miss out on, and how much potential improvement was left back in the early years.
When approaching schools and parents of young children, you are faced with many barriers and concerns about strength and conditioning for youths, due to myths and unfounded assumptions. You can highlight all the benefits mentioned above but yet it always comes down to two big things – Time and Money. As stated above young children are so adaptable and can make huge gains and progress that will last well into their teens and adulthood. The scope for growth and adaptation is huge. Surely it makes sense to invest more money and time in strength and conditioning at this age? As strength and conditioning coaches all the money is at the top end with the elite athletes and teams, yet changes that can be made at this level are very small. Invest more resources at a young age and there will be huge improvements further up the chain as this more robust, competent, educated athlete progresses through the ranks of the long term athlete development model. (Find out more about LTAD HERE). In an effort to try and educate cautious parents that are reluctant to invest in a strength and conditioning coach, let’s look at some possible financial implications to a naive (uneducated from a strength and conditioning standpoint and young training age) athlete as they get older.
Injury reduction and prevention is like a carrot on a stick to athletes and sports coaches, it’s a great way to get some buy in and support, especially when trying to convince someone to allow their son or daughter to participate in your strength and conditioning for youths’ program. As coaches when we look at sports that involve lots of reactive running, jumping, twisting and turning such as basketball, volleyball, rugby, football, you will also be aware of the high injury risks involved in these sports. One of the biggest issues facing teenage athletes is injuries to the knee and the high risk of ACL tears. There is a ton of research about ACL tears and how to prevent and reduce them. To sum them all up we can basically say that if you improve your running, jumping, landing mechanics and muscle imbalances then instances of ACL tears will be reduced. Well isn’t all the above the role of a good strength and conditioning coach?
What’s the cost of an ACL injury? ACL or cruciate ligament reconstruction, in a UK private hospital or clinic is around £4,000 to £5,000, inclusive of private hospital charges and consultant’s fees. Now once you have had the operation you need that all important physio treatment, let’s say around £40 per hour. Rehab is around 6 months, so you are getting on for about £7000-8000 to fix your injury and get back to playing. There is of course the NHS, so 6 weeks to see a specialist, 6 weeks to get a scan, 3 months to get an operation, 5-6 months down the line you can finally get it fixed, now time to start your 6 months of rehab…Not idea for someone who wants to get back out there and play and compete as quick as possible.
Some stats and research for you –
- 80% of ACL injuries are non-contact, or in my language PREVENTABLE.
- Gilchrist et al. studied just under 1500 collegiate athletes and found that those who adhered to an ACL injury prevention program showed a 70% reduction in ACL injury with noncontact injury and a 40% overall reduction in ACL injury.
- In other studies a 6 week preseason training program, maintained with 2-3 sessions per week during the regular training season reduced male to female risk to 1:1, and reduced relative risk by 50-75%.
Maybe that small investment you make in the strength and conditioning coach seems a worthwhile investment now right??
So I beg the question then is it better to pay and invest early to help reduce the chances of paying later?? We as a society are so easy to throw money at the injury with surgery, physio treatment or drugs and “quick fixes” toward obesity and diabetes. Maybe it is worthwhile to throw some money at a good strength and conditioning coach and save yourself paying later, with the added benefit of becoming a better athlete. Maybe the governing bodies of elite sport should also sit up and listen, and realize that investing in a sound youth development programme, inclusive of strength and conditioning will be of benefit for their sport in the future. As previously mentioned, the majority of sports pay their strength and conditioning coaches very well at the elite end. The coaches of the top few in each sport are very well rewarded. In comparison, often the strength and conditioning coach at the academy level is a voluntary role, or deemed suitable for an intern. Perhaps this should be where we are placing our top coaches with at least equal remuneration to the coaches of elite athletes, given that this is where the greatest impact can really be made.
Please let’s debunk the myth that strength and conditioning for youths including olympic lifting is bad for young children, and that it will cause damage to growth plates, injuries and stunt your growth. There is some much research out there that advocates good sound strength and conditioning practice for pre-adolescence. Legacy is a word that was the corner stone of the London 2012 Olympics, so let’s create that legacy by producing competent, athletic, educated and skilled athletes by focusing on fundamental movement patterns and structure strength and conditioning programs with our youth and pre-adolescent children. They will thank you later.