Working with young athletes is extraordinarily rewarding. Seeing them just as they're approaching or while they're at the peak of their age-related performance capacity provides a great vantage point for a standard of physical vitality and sports performance potential. And student athletes often display a level of self-discipline and goal-oriented focus that are both rare among many mature adults.
But over the years, as the focus on specific sports skills has demanded more time and effort of these kids, I've seen a general health and fitness framework diminish in relative importance as compared to past generations.
This can, and often does lead to burnout, overuse injuries and inadequate recovery time that can hinder long-term performance and enjoyment of their chosen sport.
Here are some of the issues I've observed with some regularity that can plague a young athlete, and the appropriate corrections:
Tight Lower Body Muscles – Most severe and most influential among the lower body muscle groups in terms of sports performance and injury risk is tight hamstrings (back of the upper leg), with tight hips and glutes close behind. This restriction can affect posture and back stiffness as well as shorten stride length and cause overwork and soreness in the psoas (the hip flexor muscles that pull the knee up and forward at the beginning of a stride). A nationally certified (ACE, NASM, NSCA or ACSM) experienced with younger athletes can provide a simple static, or fixed-held stretch sequence the athlete can follow on his/her own to correct this problem. Stretches should be done daily and especially after practice and competition.
Inadequate Rest and Recovery – Both getting less than seven hours of sleep per night or training hard and or long for five or more consecutive days (or both), several weeks running are red flags that can easily lead to burnout and injury, especially if strength and range-of-motion imbalances exist. Getting to bed earlier, taking short naps on training days and even meditation can all be helpful. But well-placed rest days are critical to a continued upward trajectory for the student athlete. Work with coaches to vary practice lengths and intensity levels, but remember, your athlete needs a lifetime, not-just season-long advocate, when your teen athlete's schedule seems overwhelming.
Limited Upper Body Strength – This may not seem important for a racket sports or soccer player, but a big disparity in lower and upper body strength can have a detrimental effect on the core muscles, balance and coordination. When this is a addressed with a sound, effective strength program (again, designed by a qualified professional), safety and sports performance and equally enhanced.
Improper Pre-Event Nutrition – A simple rule of thumb is a balanced meal (protein, produce and grains in relatively equal portions) three hours before the event. If it's two hours before, a moderate portion of easily digestible protein and carbs (yogurt with fruit, a lower sugar meal replacement bar and some cherry tomatoes, half a peanut butter sandwich). If it's an hour or less, a piece of fruit and maybe a bite or two of a protein source will do the trick.
Unbalanced Strength in Opposing Muscle Groups – The push/pull muscles should be of comparable strength. The same can be said for the quads and hamstrings (affecting gate and resistance to lower body strains) and shoulders, biceps and triceps (compromising function and stability of the shoulder and elbow joints). Those ratios rarely are in line, and often specifically because of the asymmetrical movement patterns dictated by the sport. Again, a well-designed corrective strength program with dynamic posture and flexibility improvements can do wonders to help the student athlete succeed and ensure a long athletic career.
Please contact me for more on how best to support your teen athlete's safe, successful experience with fitness and sports performance training.