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Strength and Conditioning for Children – Part 1

Probably the biggest myth in the world of lifting is that kids should absolutely not touch a heavy weight ever, which is commonly argued by mothers who read the Daily mail with points like “it’ll stunt their growth”, “their joints can’t take it” and “it’s unsafe”. Honestly the biggest bollocks you’ll ever hear. Having attended a conference on the topic by one of the most respected academics in the field, I thought it’d be worthwhile to share as much info to dispel these myths to help get your kids injury free and performing at their best so they can get the maximum enjoyment out of their favorite sports.

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Interestingly it can be argued that kids in general do not have enough control of their bodies to play sport of any kind and however ridiculous it seems, in an ideal world children would develop a considerable amount of muscular strength and control in functional movements before doing any sporting activity. I’m sure most of us have seen kids on a Sunday morning running about with flailing limbs, falling over with bad technique and movement patterns somewhat similar to a newborn horse. They have no control over their movement. If an adult were to have similar levels of control to a child there’s no way they’d be considered safe enough to play any sport and your HC certainly wouldn’t be happy to kit them up on game day, so why should we let children play sport in such an unsafe manner? Perhaps it could be argued that children largely get away injury free when exercising as they have incredibly good flexibility and elasticity, which is visible on a muscular level as well in the tendons and ligaments. They also have a high amount of hormones flying around their bodies whilst they’re growing, making recovery during and after exercise incredibly fast which also minimizes the chance of injury. Because of the adaptive and elastic sate of their bodies, there’s no need to panic if you notice little Jonny’s knees cave in when he jumps, but in the long term if this isn’t corrected it becomes a serious red flag and it’s a lot easier to nip in the bud early before your kids develop postural problems, muscle imbalances and iron in bad movement patterns that much like re-learning a bad technique, can take years to undo.

So where do we go from here? Every kid shifting tin in the weight room, busting out 1RMs screaming “Yeah Buddy” at their mothers all day long and demanding whey protein? Not quite. Strength and control comes in many forms and much like languages, academics and techniques in sport, kids adapt to anything you give them and can develop strength and control incredibly quickly. It’s no great surprise that the better players in this country started playing the sport at a young age whilst they were mobile enough to learn certain techniques e.g. heads up tackling and proper throwing mechanics. It’s also no great surprise that come fresher’s week when the new players start turning up, the ones who’ve played various sports consistently since a young age are able to move better, pick up techniques and react wayyyy faster than the kid who’s never done anything. Previous sporting experience goes one step further here and can dictate which positions a player excel in at the early stages, for example it’s very common to see kids who’ve played soccer in the winter and cricket in the summer naturally slot into WR or DB positions, whereas it’s rare for a rugby lad who moves forwards 95% of the time to have the hips to play DB (but they often make great RBs). When looking at kids S&C we aren’t trying to turn them into elite powerlifters or marathon runners, the goal is to keep things generic to give them a base level of athleticism that can be applied to any sport they want to play.

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A child being prescribed simple core exercises, basic sprint technique training, plyos and some resistance exercises to target the key muscles in sprinting and Change of Direction Speed (CODS) will be equipped with the tools to maximise his or her development from day one. Let’s take soccer as our example sport here as it’s the most commonly played sport at a young age. How often does the quickest kid  become the star player from a young age? He get’s banged on the wing or up top, ball hoofed to him and he just runs with it every time. This kid toasts every defender he plays against as he’s lightning in comparison, meaning he gets X more touches on the ball, X more shots on goal and gets even more sprinting in every week because he’s busy on the pitch, whereas Chubster the left back barely touches the ball, Dad screams at him to stay back and defend so he doesn’t run or move that much and his development in the sport is canned before it’s even begun (I definitely wasn’t Chubster btw. Fuck you Dad). These two kids are then stuck on different paths from day 1, Speedy Gonzales gets into the first team at school and his local club, receives the best coaching and becomes the focus of development and a target for scouts, chances are Speedy Gonzales loves PE and any chance to move about and learn something new. Chubster goes the opposite direction, gets lesser coaching, probably ends up being picked last in PE and quite possibly dreads the idea of playing sport because he’s just not that good at it. The Dorito loving neckbeard is born.

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We can see the benefits of S&C to our younglings and how much of an advantage this could

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