Summertime Development for Kids in Sports

Parents all over the county ask us, “What should my kids be doing over summer to help them in their sport?”

We know practicing fundamental movements will help any young athlete gain confidence in their sport, increase their speed and prevent injury – these movements include:

  1. Sprint technique
  2. Changing direction
  3. Throwing/catching
  4. Squatting/hinging
  5. Pressing/pulling

But before we get into what a young athlete should be doing, let’s first ask them personally, what they want to do and why?

A recent interview with Athlon Coach, Cory Johnston dives deeper into not only the do’s of encouraging kids to move more and have fun but also a few reasons why this “play” is so important to a developing human.

Cory started out at age 5 playing t-ball and soccer. His parents always told him to “go outside and play” and encouraged him to try new sports to find out what he naturally gravitated towards. He claims to have his “mom’s athleticism”, sitting on the sidelines of her almost nightly softball and basketball league games. Over the years, he added basketball himself and multiple summer sports camps (tennis, golf, etc.). In middle school he also started going to the local sports club with his mom, often opting out of weight lifting and cardio for pick-up games of basketball or messing around on the tennis court with friends. He says, “physical activity was just a part of my daily life”.

He realizes now that his parents had a great strategy – they exposed Cory to everything (athletics and the arts as well) at a young age and showed by example what worked for adults. Different physiological qualities and skills come from playing multiple sports. This gives kids the opportunity to learn different objectives, communicate and improve social skills, physically adapt to the demands of that sport, learn how to compete, win and lose, as well as deeply imbed the positive habit of physical activity at a young age.

So what does Cory say to parents that ask him, “What should my elementary school athlete be working on this summer?” Most likely, he’ll turn to the kid and ask, “What do you like doing outside of school?”

If the kid says they like a particular (or multiple) sports/activities, great! Take them out and do those activities more often; play and run “drills” with them involving the five fundamental athletic movements listed above; take them out to participate in activities you, as a parent, like to do too; show them how to live a healthy and active lifestyle. Athletic benefits come from internalizing how a movement feels (proprioception) so at a young age ALL (and varied) MOVEMENT IS GREAT!

But what if the kid says they like to sit at home and read or play video games…? Cory cautions parents not to force kids into activities. It’ll be important for this kid to consciously create opportunities for activity daily and enforce that habit for themselves (with the help and support of parents). The World Health Organization states kids should have an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day of the week (with additional health benefits over 60 minutes), so it may be a good idea to start asking questions about PE participation in school, activity during recess and lunch breaks, interest or inclination towards a new sport, activity or working out in a controlled setting to create that standard. Help educate and empower a child to move well…and if that doesn’t seem to work as well as you thought, find a compromise and focus on nutrition.

For more information from The World Health Organization on: Global recommendations on physical activity for health (5 – 17 years old) click below: https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/recommendations5_17years/en/

With obesity on the rise, and an unhealthy sedentary lifestyle becoming more common, choose to set your kids up for success – only have healthy and nutritious, whole foods in your home, show your kids that you care about not only what goes into their body but yours as well, be mindful of what you tend to allow and even what you restrict.

So, if elementary school is a good time for exposure, diversity and play, would middle school be a good time to start training a sport and doing weight lifting?

Parents are often concerned with “stunting a child’s growth” or burning them out too soon on structured exercise. Cory states, “If you’re afraid of your child getting their growth stunted by picking up 15 pounds and squatting it with focused intention and an efficient, learned motor pattern, then probably don’t let them wear a backpack with crappy posture…” Activities of daily life aside, the child will always dictate the “right time” to start training when they become interested in getting stronger, quicker or more resilient in their sport(s).

Learning how to move under load is safe and effective at any age (when taught correct technique). Working with a qualified strength coach in a controlled setting will help a child learn fundamental movement skills, will reduce risk of injury when playing their chosen sport and will help a young athlete develop more physically and translate that growth to their chosen activities.

The positive effects of exercise both mentally and physically are abundant; if you need some proof and like reading research articles click below: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&q=effects+of+physical+exercise&oq=positive+effects+of+exercise+for+children ).

Now let’s talk high school athletics.

As your child ages, the template of important movements stays consistent (once again referring to the fundamentals listed above); however the specificity of a program itself may change. There is no particular need for a high school student to specialize in a sport, however if they favor one and want to progress in it, they will want to focus on their “off-season” training. Many make the mistake of taking summers completely off from all structured sports and activities to give their kid a break but functionally this is an optimal time to at the very least maintain strength, speed and skill if not work on weaknesses and “build a better base” for the next year.

If the athlete chooses to train in a gym, the increased input will bring about increased output. What does that mean? Here’s an example: We know challenging sensory input (proprioception or feeling how the body moves in space) will increase “body awareness” and that awareness will easily transfer to a task or sport, thereby making a more capable athlete. In other words, training movement pattern efficiency leads to an athlete that knows where they’re at, what their body is capable of and has a better environmental awareness. This allows athletes to react rather than respond to oncoming situations.

With our high school athletes at Athlon we work them as if they were in a college weight room…because we hope they are one day!

Form and technique is always top priority. We want to get them as strong as possible, have great vision and awareness (and yes, there are ways to improve vision and coordination too) and be resilient. Athletes here will always work on balance (vision and coordination plays a big part here), conditioning and, depending on their sport/position, some aerobic training as well. A well-balanced athlete is a healthy athlete.

So what are the takeaways of our interview with Cory?

  1. Goal of youth athletics = EXPOSURE.
  2. Physical activity and sports participation throughout youth encourages a habit of being physically active for life and creates feelings of self efficacy and autonomy.
  3. A family goal to move daily and eat well to reap the physical and mental benefits associated will work much better than a “do as I say” mentality.

 So, have fun with it this summer and let your kids lead the way!

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