Here’s everything you probably didn’t know about Strength and Conditioning (S&C) for our young athletes and why taking this step forward gives them the opportunity they deserve to excel at their sport.
Who am I? Why S&C? A bit of a background…
I am an ex-basketball player. Between the ages of 12 to 16, I also excelled in most sports at school and was repeatedly awarded sports person of the year. Although I continued to practice sports after school, and even competed internationally with the women’s Maltese national basketball team, I started to see a drop in my athleticism as I got older. My opponents where stronger than I was, faster than I was, more agile, and definitely more confident. This was even more noticeable when competing with foreign athletes in international competitions. Yet why did I continue to practice my shooting on the daily and completely neglect the physical aspects of what the sport entailed? How did we not realize that our bodies are the powerhouse of our performance and that we can only be as good as we build ourselves to be?
Although S&C in Maltese Sport has definitely picked up over the years, I look back and wish I had a better opportunity to excel at my sport through the provision of a more multi-disciplinary approach of an athlete’s preparation, including the appropriate physical training necessary for the demands of my sport as a developing athlete. This is only something I became aware of throughout my education in the field of sport and exercise science; where I learned how much more there is to sport than just the technical and tactical side of it.
I chose to pursue this path with the hopes of being part of an ever-changing mentality towards youth strength training & helping young athletes alike by providing them with a space and a platform to excel and perform the way they deserve to.
WHAT IS STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING?
Strength and conditioning at its simplest form is the practical application of sports science to enhance movement quality. It is grounded in evidence-based research and physiology of exercise and anatomy. We all move and therefore we can all benefit from a better quality of movement.
Firstly, we tend to focus on movement quality to improve performance, this can be in any given sport focusing on speed, strength and power, or equally, it could be improving performance in real-life scenarios, such as standing up with ease for elderly clients. Secondly, we focus on preventing injury, developing better movement patterns helps to prevent injury in athletes which can help accelerate their career.
WHO IS STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING FOR?
Anyone who is looking to enhance physical exercise and sport performance will definitely benefit from a Strength and Conditioning program. However, S&C is no longer a niche environment believed to be only for athletes. More and more people have come to understand the many benefits of movement-based fitness; and so, the market is continuously growing.
WHY IT’S NECESSARY
Kids nowadays no longer get the same amount of outdoor free play or physical education that earlier generations did. Climbing trees for hours on end used to be “natural” strength training disguised as a lot of fun. But, the increased use of technology and devices combined with cuts to physical education programs have diminished the exercise kids get on a daily basis.
In order to make sure kids still have opportunities to build the strength they need; parents now need to make deliberate choices to incorporate strength training into sports and free time.
You’ve probably been told by someone that lifting weights from a young age can damage kids’ growth plates and make them susceptible to bone fractures. This has proven, by various publications, to be a popular MISCONCEPTION. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal found NO EVIDENCE at all to back up these claims.
It has also been found that activities such as kicking a ball and landing after a jump apply more torque to young bones and joints than strength training does, and that strength training is actually a great tool that can be used to reduce the risk of injuries associated with such actions involved in sports and physical activity (Malina, 2006).
What the science actually shows is that your child’s body can handle loads much heavier than anything that would ever be used in a strength training session. By measuring ground reaction forces, studies have found that when your daughters and sons run or jump, high-impulse loads of anywhere from two to ten times their body weight can pass through their open growth plates without causing any damage. For comparison, that could be as much as much as 1,000 pounds of force that is safely dissipated and by a child’s growing body. That is much more than any child would be subjected to in a structured strength training program.
On the other hand, there are many reasons why our young athletes SHOULD be strength training.
BENEFITS OF STRENGTH TRAINING FOR YOUTH
Improves sports performance
Strength training plays a significant role in ensuring that young athletes develop motor skills, understand muscle mechanics and become more coordinated, stable and strong as they progress through their athletic careers.
A stronger athlete is a better athlete. Often, we see parents and coaches hyper-focused on the tactical aspects of their sport (e.g. ball handling in basketball, dribbling in football) when in actuality, greater benefits can be seen with a well-rounded program, especially for younger athletes. Youth athletes do not have the strength, endurance, or stability of their muscles and joints to properly or efficiently perform many sports skills. Tactical training with a lack of strength training at a young age can actually result in muscle imbalances and improper training technique.
Strength training for young athletes thus supports optimal mobility, stability, coordination, strength, and movement efficiency. In the sports arena, this results in improved speed, agility, quickness and conditioning.
Reducing risk of injury associated with sport & physical activity
When the body is placed under a heavier load (such as during resistance training) or performs an explosive movement with impact (such as jumping and landing), bone density and bone mineral content will increase. Simply meaning, bones are stronger, denser, and less likely to break, therefore increasing overall bone and skeletal health. Developing proper movement patterns, basic techniques for running, jumping, landing, agility, and balance are all key components to building a solid foundation for a youth athlete. Having these skills and being able to further evolve them as biological (physical) development and chronological age rise, allows for the potential reduction in injury as athletes can grasp a better understanding of proper form and better movement mechanics, therefore having an overall positive impact on your child’s health.
Many young athletes struggle with comparisons to other children, especially at developmental rates of children who are the same age and play the same sports, and S&C can work to bridge that gap and instil confidence in younger individuals.
Studies have shown an increase in positive self-image with regular strength training. The rigors of a strength program, within reason, help a young athlete gain focus, attention and dedication. They see what their body can do that it couldn’t do before. All that in addition to improved body composition from their training. The resulting confidence and self-esteem helps them not only in their sport, but in all avenues of life.
WHEN TO START
While there is no minimum age to begin strength training, children should be able to accept & follow directions, understand & respect basic safety considerations in a weight room environment, and when they have basic levels of balance and postural control, children are typically ready to begin strength training and conditioning.
If you have a child who is interested in sports, or already participating, I highly encourage you to get them started in a strength training program.
The Youth Summer Strength Camp @ SCRAM Gym
For applications, or to answer any questions you may have, you may contact us through our Facebook page, by email ([email protected]), or in person at our facility in Birkirkara (Ewropa Business Centre, Level-2, Triq Dun Karm).