B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning – Articles 33

Trying Times

Part II: Using tryouts to get your athletes focused on fitness.

By Mike Mejia, CSCS

In the first installment of this series, I went over some conditioning tips for athletes in the seven- to ten-year-old age group. Here in part two, I’ll keep with the theme of using tryouts to get your players more committed to off-season conditioning, but I’ll switch my focus to 11-to 14-year-olds.

Because their bodies are going through such tremendous physical change, this can be a very challenging time in the life of a young athlete. Right around this age is when bones start growing at a rate that muscles and connective tissue can’t keep up with (thanks to something known as peak height velocity — typically the most significant growth spurt in a child’s development), resulting in what are often gangly, more physically awkward players who seem to have lost some of their athleticism.

And while there’s nothing that can be done about the rapid rate of skeletal growth during this time period, there are certain steps that can be taken to alleviate some of the obvious restrictions to their movement efficiency. Not to mention, offset the various postural imbalances that result from sitting in class for hours on end and constantly playing lacrosse.

Another major consideration is that this is the age range in which boys and girls start to separate from each other in terms of physical ability. So, while doing the same types of drills may have been fine when they were younger, as they near the their teenage years, there are specific things each gender will need to work on more to reduce injury risk and continue to develop athletically.

Before we get into the differences between the two, though, let’s first talk about some of their similarities. Typically, kids in this age group tend to be especially tight in the hips and have limited mobility around the ankles and thoracic spine (middle back area). Tightness in the muscles that surround the hips can negatively impact their ability to accelerate and decelerate effectively when attempting to sprint and change directions. This holds especially true for the hip flexors (muscles that act on the front of the hips), the groin area and the glutes.

Limited ankle mobility can also adversely affect running mechanics, as well as place unnecessary stress on the knees when doing basic strengthening exercises such as body weight squats and lunges. Limited mobility of the muscles around the thoracic spine can cause increased reliance on the lower back to produce movement — a major problem since the lumbar spine was designed to provide more in the way of torso stability.

So here are a few quick stretches and mobility drills designed to address these problem areas. Please note that because they’re being held for a relatively short period of time (20-30 seconds each), the static stretches that precede these mobility drills will not have an adverse effect on speed and power development as has often been reported. Although the prolonged tension of static stretching is not the preferred means of increasing movement efficiency in athletes who are going through intense growth spurts, when done for short durations immediately prior to mobility drills, this can serve as an effective tool to improve range of motion and movement efficiency.

The following stretches contained in the video below can all be done prior to athletic activity, as well as during downtime from training (i.e. each night before bed).

Hip flexor stretch: Hold for 20-30 seconds per side

Spidermans: x 10-12 (alternating)

Butterfly stretch: Hold for 20-30 seconds

Lateral Lunge: x 10-12 (alternating)

Pike calf stretch: Hold for 20-30 seconds per side

Stick ankle mobility drill: x 10-12 reps per side

Stick pec stretch: Hold for 20-30 seconds per side

Open books: x 10-12 per side

As far as differences go, right around this time is when boys start gravitating toward strength training, while girls tend to shy away from it. This can pose a problem on both ends, as boys tend to favor exercises that lead to imbalanced development around the shoulder joint (with too much emphasis on exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, bench presses and dips) and girls often neglect key lower body strengthening drills that can help reduce their risk for serious knee injuries.

While we don’t necessarily want to turn kids this age loose in the weight room, there are several effective strengthening exercises they can start doing to help build a proper foundation for more advanced training when they’re older. For boys, this will involve lots of emphasis on things like TRX, or resistance band rows and reverse flys to build up the upper back, as well as manual resistance neck strengthening exercises.

Girls on the other hand need to start familiarizing themselves with exercises that help strengthen the posterior chain — the term used to describe the hamstrings, glutes and lower back working together as a unit. Some great beginner exercises for girls in this age range include supine bridges, clamshells (to strengthen the lateral glutes for better knee tracking) and single leg Romanian deadlifts.

I’ve also thrown in a drill known as the Pallof Press, which is actually suitable for both genders. It’s a step up from the traditional plank exercise, as it puts kids in a more functional position by teaching them how apply force into the ground and brace their body in a standing position. This will help a lot by giving them a more solid foundation for shooting, as well as making them better able to withstand contact with other players.

*Note: set and repetition ranges for all of the strengthening drills are as follows: one to two sets, of ten to 12 reps per exercise, done two to three times per week.

Once again, I’ve hit you with a lot here and don’t expect you to be able to relay all of this information to your athletes during the short tryout period. However, by simply stressing the types of things they’ll need to do to become better players and providing them with the video link contained in this article, you’ll have taken an excellent first step toward making a significant impact on their level of preparedness for next season.

So please, feel free to post this information on your team website and have parents and coaches familiarize themselves with some of the drills to help keep on top of kids through the off-season. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!

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