Stretching has long been a staple of sports warm-ups. From sprinters stretching incessantly before a big race to NFL athletes utilizing dynamic stretches on Sunday afternoons, there is no doubt that stretching is a part of most athletes’ game plan. When it comes to youth athletes, is stretching really that important?
Today, we will argue that stretching is important for youth athletes, what other techniques can be used to keep our young players healthy and safe, and how to incorporate stretching, conditioning, dynamic warmups, and strength training into our youth athletes’ training regimen.
What are the Benefits of Stretching?
As per the Mayo Clinic, there are five (5) primary benefits to regular stretching:
Decrease a youth athlete’s risk of becoming injured.
Boost sports performance.
Allow players to perform actions which require full range of motion.
Ensure that muscles are ready to perform effectively.
Allowing blood to flow to the extremities and into the muscles more efficiently.
While the previous benefits may be of lesser concern to a youth player than say, a thirty year old basketball player, they are certainly still beneficial! As old folks, we tend to believe that kids are impervious to aches and pains. This is not the case. Youth athletes get tight muscles and back spasms just like the rest of us.
Stretching is also extremely useful as a corrective tool. For example, many of us are guilty of “slouching”. Over time, this can lead to shoulder and upper back issues. Targeted stretching can actually reverse some negative effects from slouching or other muscular imbalances.
Another key factor to incorporating stretching into our young players’ routine is building good habits. If a player is taught how to properly stretch and warm-up for a game at age eight, he or she will carry those good habits into their later years when it is even more important.
Stretching vs. Dynamic Warm-ups
Here is yet another age-old sports debate: is it more important to stretch or to use dynamic warm-ups? Our response would be: why not both?! Dynamic warm-up and stretching as a tandem provides the most effective warm-up for athletes of all ages. Here are some tips to make the most out of both of these techniques.
Always warm-up before stretching. Dynamic warm-ups are meant to quite literally warm the body up for activity. A “cold” body is not prepared to do any vigorous activity, and that includes stretching. For that reason, it is recommended that any preg-game or pre-practice stretching be performed after players are already warm.
Do not use stretching as a warm-up technique. Stretching may increase blood flow and prepare our muscles for activity, but it is not the most effective method of warming up a youth athlete for sports performance. Ten (10) minutes of dynamic warm-ups are far more important when it comes to preparing for a game or practice. Still, some stretching before a baseball or basketball game is a great idea when performed properly.
Use stretching as a restorative tool. Instead of only stretching before an activity, some research has shown that stretching should is most effective when performed after an activity or even on an off day.
Strength, Condition, and Stretching for Youth Athletes
If you thought stretching vs. dynamic warm-ups was an age-old debate, just wait until you wade into the waters of when youth athletes should start strength training. Strength training, conditioning, stretching, and dynamic work are all intertwined as tools for athletic performance and recovery. We believe that all of these disciplines can work in harmony to allow youth athletes to safely reach their performance goals.
Recent studieshave shown that strength training is safe for children as young as age seven (7). It is important to understand that “strength training” does not equal hardcore weightlifting. There are innumerable strength training techniques which are perfect for youth athletes in that they put minimal strain on joints, tendons, ligaments, and so forth.
One of the great aspects of conditioning work for youth athletesis that it will translate to just about every sport and it promotes overall health. Even for children who are not participating in sports, getting outside and doing some calisthenics is always a positive choice. Common conditioning work includes sprints, jumping jacks, bodyweight squats, high knees, bear crawls, and much more.
While strength and conditioning is certainly healthy when performed properly, it will leave muscles sore. This is where stretching truly shines. Targeted stretching will work to increase blood flow to sore muscles, work out the kinks of any small knots, and also work to correct any imbalances which may naturally occur. Stretching is most effective when we use it as a recuperative tool.
Youth Athletics Training with Hustle
Pittsburgh-based Hustle Training is a growing startup created for the sports-driven players and coaches out there looking to up their game and maximize performance potential. Their website coupled with the mobile app makes it easy for players to improve their fundamentals and move on to master advanced techniques by providing crafted workouts and drills created by college coaches, professional players, and expert trainers.