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Youth Sports and Exercise
As a coach, I am constantly asked questions about how a child/teen can succeed as an athlete. The most frequent questions that parents and athletes ask me are 1) What kind of food should my child eat? 2) When should they start weight training? 3) Should he focus on a single sport or multi-sport? These are all extremely important questions to ask, but unfortunately, depending on who you ask, you may find that there will be multiple answers to each. Diet alone will provide you with more than enough contraindications and misinformation to last you a lifetime. In this article, I hope you will gain a better understanding of each of these questions, and I will do my best to provide you with resources for further investigation.
The first question about food intake is well beyond the scope of this and many other articles due to the complexity of the subject. So instead of writing a quote, based on my own experiences and biases, I will list several sources that can be investigated. That way, you’ll be able to use your own experiences and biases to make informed decisions about your particular situation. Before I list these sources, it should be pointed out to the reader that these sources are based on holistic knowledge and therefore will not include specific, “one-size-fits-all” diets.
1. http://www.mercola.com (very broad health and nutrition website, which is very informative)
2. http://www.westonaprice.org (the nutrition information base)
3. http://www.price-pottenger.org (the combined website of two nutrition pioneers)
4. [http://www.personaltrainingonthenet.com] (a site that should be a staple for all health professionals. Includes information on diet, exercise, lifestyle changes, etc. This site charges $9.50 per month.)
5. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price
6. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
7. Pottenger’s Cats by Francis M. Pottenger
The second question that is commonly asked is When should my son/daughter start weight training? This is a great question that requires a great answer, which unfortunately rarely happens. The common response from the “experts” in the field is usually either that they don’t have a definite answer or they say, “as soon as they can.” The subject of resistance training with youth is a complex one since there is so much misinformation in popular publications. Too often I have seen a pre-teen in the gym with his parents or lifting weights that are too heavy by himself or doing exercises fit for bodybuilders. While the parent should applaud the fact that they introduced their child to a potentially positive hobby, they should be careful about how early they introduce them to resistance training.
First of all, a child doesn’t finish growing physically until their early to late 20s. This is an important point to emphasize, as resistance training can be extremely stressful on a person’s joints and connective tissues at any age. If a child’s tissues are not fully developed and subjected to forces greater than what would be considered normal, there is an increased risk of irreversible damage. This can be seen in many trainees who start around the age of 13 or 14 and end up needing major surgery before high school graduation (including the author). Too many cases of ACL/MCL/PCL tears have started occurring as early as 15 in our area as a result of improper training protocol and age of exposure. I personally know of half a dozen cases of this type, with one person in particular having had two ACL repairs done before the age of 17! This shouldn’t happen!
So when should your child be introduced to resistance training? A good rule of thumb would be shortly after the onset of puberty and only in a very limited way. Exercise types should be bodyweight and/or light equipment type, e.g. bodyweight squats, pull-ups, light dumbbells on a swiss ball. Total volume (total amount of repetitions in a given session) should be kept extremely low for the first year or two of training as well as intensity (amount of weight per repetition) of exercise.
The third question, should my child focus on one sport or should I play multiple sports, is something that requires your child’s input as well as a lot of educated decision making. First, one concept must be understood first, and that is the concept of Biokinetic ability. Bio, refers to life and motor refers to the movements that make biomotor ability a person’s particular strengths and weaknesses in life movements. Why is it important? Since each sport requires specific biokinetic abilities, an athlete must be proficient in them to succeed at elite levels. Common sense would then say that the child should then choose just one sport early on as this will help them focus on the skills most needed for their particular sport. For example, a baseball pitcher would require high levels of strength, coordination, balance, and flexibility with the others being less necessary for success. Logically, majoring in baseball would ensure that the kid reaches his full physical potential… right? Not necessarily.
We must first understand how power is developed to realize how flawed this ideology is. In order to develop optimal strength, the child must first have a solid structural/stabilizing system that can withstand the forces naturally exerted on them. The next component needed to specifically train strength is strength which should only be trained when the stabilizer system is adequate. So we can now see that in order to have one of the Biokinetic abilities necessary, we must first focus on other abilities. How is this achieved? Using other activities and/or sports as ‘supplementary’ training for their favorite sport. Think about it. How many times have you watched college or professional sports and the commentators talk about a certain athlete’s past? How many of these athletes were elite quarterbacks, pitchers and point guards in high school? This further demonstrates the need for additional activities/sports to achieve a high level of success. So the next time a coach gives your child an ultimatum asking them to choose between sports, hopefully this article will help with the conversation that will undoubtedly follow.
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