There is a certain misconception out there in the world of youth sports. There is a belief that playing one sport will get there child that much desired scholarship. Parents are willing to throw their social lives away for travel teams and tournaments, spend thousands of dollars on club teams, and hire individuals like myself to improve their child's athletic performance. And then there are the "coaches" who enable and encourage this. These are the ones telling your kids that they need to specialize in one sport. They tell them this for selfish reasons. It's because of ego and fattening their pockets. These individuals value winning over coaching and it leads to poor development as the child grows older.
There is a story I have come across that speaks of the tall fourth grade girl. Now, because of her height, she is told by her coach that her job is to rebound the ball and play defense. Does she ever learn how to dribble? No need to, that is not in her job description. But as this girl grows older, she is no longer the tall one on the team. She is of average height now, but because of the lack of attention spent on dribbling and shooting growing up, she is no longer able to keep up with the other girls of similar height. This girl, and thousands of others, are playing sports in an environment not designed to make them better in the long term. They are caught up in an adult obsession to solely measure youth sport results in wins and losses, and it is killing athletics in our country. Teaching a tall 10 year old how to dribble and play guard will likely lose you a few basketball games today, but it will make that 10 year old a better basketball player later in life. The coach has to make a decision, do you want to teach these kids to become better basketball players or just try to win a game? If you ask me, the focus should be on excellence and development of young athletes, and let the winning come as a result of development, not in place of it.
There are some out there that believe playing the quarterback position is the toughest position in all sports. With that being said, wouldn't it make sense to spend a majority of your time focusing on that skill? That might not be the case. A recent study broke it all down for us: The study outlined 128 quarterbacks- 73 active, 55 retired- and out of 128, 122 of them played at least two sports in high school. Andrew Luck, the top young quarterback in the NFL, grew up playing soccer in Europe. The game of soccer taught him lessons on passing lanes and working the ball through tight windows. The same benefits are present in other sports like basketball, lacrosse, etc. These skills acquired through participating in other sports are often overlooked by parents and children. One theory to blame: the 10, 000 hour rule. Author Malcolm Gladwell popularized this rule and to put it simply, the rule states that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve mastery. Unfortunately, this rule was taken literally.
My argument to Gladwell's theory is that each individual has their own physical capacity to perform a skill. If there is not variety in your training, you will reach your physical capacity early in life and "peak" at a younger age. But, if you vary your training you will enlarge your physical capacity. The more skills you learn and the stronger you get, the faster you will become, the more agile you will become, and the more powerful you will become. Once you begin to practice your sport with these new attributes, your physical capacity will expand and you will become better at your trade. Don't mistake activity for productivity. More practice doesn't always mean more success. Enlarge your skill set and watch your success grow to new heights!
There are many things that I am thankful for growing up. I had an older brother who participated in a variety of sports and because of that, was introduced to athletics at a young age. It was football, baseball and wrestling growing up, and when I got older, I replaced baseball with Track & Field. Between all of these sports, I feel like I learned every skill under the sun. The wrestling mat teaches you things physically that no other sport can replicate. Football teaches you a certain amount of toughness that you can't find on the wrestling mat. It is the kind of toughness that allows you to get tackled at full speed by two guys, and then get back up and do it again. Baseball taught me the importance of hand eye coordination and track & field is all over the spectrum. Running the hurdles was a combination of coordinating two skills (running & jumping) and being a thrower was all about power output for one individual effort. I was far from being a superstar, but when you get older and are grateful for all the relationships you built playing sports growing up, who really cares about how many games or matches you've won or lost. All that you remember is the relationships that you still have because of athletics!
Strength training could be a wonderful thing for individuals of all ages. For the elderly, it can help with bone density and fight the battle against muscle degradation. For others, it is used to boost fat loss and maintain some lean muscle mass. And for the young, the benefits of a strength and conditioning program are endless. Unfortunately, there is a certain stigma surrounding weight training for the youth athlete. For most of the naysayers, here are the main arguments they typically give:
Lifting weights will stunt their growth
This is one of those things that an adult told me growing up. An uninformed one, but an adult nonetheless. As a young kid, you think that because that person is a grown up they must know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth. The facts are that there is zero, I repeat, ZERO, evidence in the scientific literature that resistance training has any negative impact on growth plates. None. Anecdotally, I have yet to hear of this kind of damage happening to anyone, ever. I don't know where this theory came from but it needs to be squashed ASAP!
It will wreck their joints
This one happens to be true. BUT, a ton of things can ruin a kids joints. Playing baseball can harm the shoulder or elbow joint. Participating in gymnastics can hurt knees, ankles, shoulders, wrists, etc. The same could be said for football. The important thing is that strength training has to be done the right way. This could be said for anybody but it is especially true for adolescents. It is important that they are doing the right programming with proper supervision and coaching. When this is done, muscles will gain strength. And stronger muscles will help protect the joint. So instead of harming the joint, it will help protect the joint from some of the jarring things that occur in sports.
It isn't safe to be lifting too much weight
It is not safe to lift a weight that you can't handle...for anybody of any age. When your child participates in a strength training program, they need to be taught and have quality supervision. The progression needs to be slow and steady. For some young athletes, they will not improve a great deal in strength because of their lack of maturity. But once they do fully mature, they already have had the necessary instruction to participate in a strength program. The one area that they will improve is in their efficiency of movement, or motor learning. While performing a repetition, there is a signal sent from the brain to the body to perform the task. The first time you perform the task, your brain might be saying "what the hell is going on here". But over time, with more repetition and practice, the signal your brain send becomes less cloudy and the weight is moved in a more efficient manner. You will see improvements in motor learning prior to strength gains. That is why it is important to become efficient with the movement BEFORE the young athletes hits puberty. When the youngster finally does mature, he/she will not have to spend time learning. They will be able to begin moving heavier weights with quality form.
Not only is it perfectly safe to lift weights if you are a young athlete, but NOT strength training is far worse and could increase the risk for future injury. Even if improved sport performance isn't the goal, and you're a youngster just trying to get into better shape I would fathom to guess that improving strength, appearance, confidence, cardiovascular health, and decreasing stress and depression would all be valuable gains for any adolescent.
Chris Fluck, CSCS
I have spent 29 years on this earth and there is one thing that I have never done: cook fresh and tasty meals. But now, things are beginning to change (thanks primarily to my girlfriend). Every recipe that I will write about comes from her. Now, she can eat anything... as long as it does not contain corn, soy, gluten, or dairy. I have gotten on board with this diet and have not felt better. I have dropped a few pounds, I have been sleeping like a baby, and I walk around with a little more pep in my step!
I typically make this when I don't really feel like putting much energy into what I am about to eat. It is also good for a snack in the evening time or in-between meals. Keep portion control in mind when you add the contents!
The fitness industry is booming right now. Job opportunities are seemingly endless and a high percentage of people are participating in a fitness program of some sort (this number is apparently at 73% but I am not so sure I believe that). Now, this stuff is great for all those involved, BUT it is unfortunately not translating to a fitter society. One common deterrent: sitting on the job. Now this will not only piss your boss off, but it will also put a hurting on your health. The data on sitting down is downright scary.
A 2010 study found that men who spent more than 23 hours a week sitting had a 64 percent greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours a week or less. This includes sitting at work, on your drive to and from work, watching television on your bum, etc. Now this stat may not be all that surprising to most of you out there but there was one alarming find: the number of hours that you workout per week does offset that risk factor. You can train 6 days a week but if you spend 23+ hours sitting down, you are still considered high risk! It goes to show, adding a positive health factor is not always the answer. It is removing the unhealthy behavior that will give you the needed health boost.
One area to address: the workplace. Standing on the job can have a tremendous impact on your health. The BBC cited that those who stood for 3-4 hours during their workday, their heart rate raised by 10 bpm. The increase in heart rate will boost the amount of calories burned per hour by nearly 50 calories! It does not sound like much, but over the course of the year, if you decide to stand an additional 2-3 hours per workday (an additional 150 calories per day), you could burn an additional 30,000 calories that year, or 8 pounds of fat! If you want to compare that to an activity, it would be the equivalent of running 10 marathons that year! So just remember: Change your environment, change your health.
Chris is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and member of the National Strength & Conditioning Association. He has recently served as a high school football and wrestling coach. Chris loves swinging kettlebells around, watching football and reading books!