Kilkenny hurling star Michael Fennelly looks at Youth player development
Key words: Mini growth Spurts, Injury prevention, resistance exercises
The time as a child and a teenager is an important period for learning and development both physically and mentally. The old saying of “children have heads like sponges” couldn’t be more true. The brain is relatively underdeveloped at birth but by the age of 3, brain development is approximately 85% complete. Even at such a young age of 2 they already know how to adequately lift an object off the ground. Some of these skills are innate from the day we are born however they seem to fade or abandon us, as we grow older and supposedly smarter. How many times have you heard the phrase “bend your knees” when lifting a box or an object? Why does a two-year old not have to be instructed to do the same?
At the age of 6 our brain is 95% developed therefore this initial period is vital for learning new skills & movements, which can be stored, repeated and engrained in the brain. The ABCs of Agility, Balance and Coordination are key during this period and should be practiced through fun progressive games. At this vital stage of development we seem to ignore resistance exercises and focus solely on skill when it comes to sport. I am a huge advocate when it comes to coaching skill in sports, as it’s the most important element but why not try and incorporate some resistance exercises along the way. At the stage of late teens and early 20s, athletes are expected to start lifting weights with little or no practice in technique and in most cases have developed poor mobility and weak muscles and Joints. I will briefly discuss in the last paragraph the importance of resistance exercises but first, lets look at a stage of physical development that can be high risk for injury – growth spurts.
Mini – Growth Spurts
The average age for a growth spurt for girls is 10.5 years and 12.5 for boys. A young athlete’s body changes as he/she grows, which can affect coordinating limbs, centre of body mass, postural alignment and neuromuscular control. The next growth spurt for some teenagers can be at the age of 14 – 15 and others just having a steady growth rate. The growth spurt can reach a high of 4 inches in only one year. The growth spurt that some teenagers experience can be an uncomfortable time in terms of growth pains and also feeling awkward during movement patterns, particularly in sport. I can recall my mini growth spurt occurring at around the age of 15 as a lot of people would have recognised my fast elevations in height. I was getting complimented for my increase in height, which felt like a good thing however I had a very difficult year playing sport at that time. I felt awkward running and found it hard to judge how low to bend to pick up a rolling ball on the ground.
No one told me I would experience difficulties from the above affects in terms of coordination and performing the basic skills in hurling. I just put it down to a bad period in my game, which did cause some confidence issues. You may have been competent in performing a skill before the sudden increase in height but now you may need to revisit that skill again to refine the movement pattern. During growth spurts, core strength, neuromuscular ability, coordination and proprioception can become imbalanced and also contribute to an injury. Here is what some teams and clubs are doing to support players during this physical development phase.
Arsenal and other professional organisations are currently targeting this period of growth and bringing players back into the gym to focus on functional movements, coordination and core strength. In fact they are measuring the height of a player every few weeks to monitor their growth rate and in some cases measure their parents height as an indicator to their child’s potential height. Could you of imagined measuring the height of Yao Mings parents whose dad stood tall at 6’7 and his mother 6’3. Yao turned out to be the tallest Basketball player in China of his time reaching a monumental height of 7’7. This is all well and good if you have large amounts of resources and large amounts of time with the players but it does give us an indication to an important time in a teenager’s development phase both physically and mentally. GAA, Rugby & Soccer and other sporting clubs need to get the basics right first before you can start looking at this specific type of monitoring. Clubs need to be focusing on programs to strengthen our athletes & reduce the risk of injuries which can be done at minimal cost once supervised accordingly. At Coachfinder we have commenced some of these programs already for clubs in Ireland and covered areas such as strength, mobility, power, flexibility & nutrition. I will now look at resistance exercises and the different types clubs can implement.
As I have mentioned above, a 2-year-old baby is able to deep squat with out any instruction from an adult but unfortunately as time moves on, we forget these simple movements. But what if we continue them through playing sport and PE from 6 years of age onwards? We all know the phrase “practice makes perfect” so why not introduce lunges, squats, core, press ups etc into our weekly sports games for kids to improve in strength, mobility and flexibility. These exercises can be part of our warm up or create fun games where they can be used with out them even realising it. Children always love challenges and competition and this can be a good way to perform the exercises. A lot of the kids are doing some of these movements already but not consistently. When you think of the school playground with games like climbing a tree (upper body strength) & Hop Scotch (plyometrics). Kids carrying their school bags to school can weigh anything between 5 – 10kg, which is a form of resistance training. Gymnastics is another sport, which provides a great form of flexibility, mobility and strength at a very young age.
I firmly believe in introducing resistance exercises in sport at the age of 6 upwards to increase strength, mobility & flexibility. Once children can lift their own body weight, which is a very difficult task, you can move on and introduce bands, which will create further resistance. If some of your players do go through mini growth spurts, these movements, which they already know, can be revisited and refined once more. An area of weakness for many children & teenagers are glutes, groins, hamstrings and upper body strength. These key exercises, which have to be taught by a qualified S&C coach, can be performed from early childhood to adulthood as they provide the basis of a strength and conditioning program. The key for me is to give the player every advantage in being the best they can be and preventing injury, which I know all too well about!!!!! If your club is interested in implementing structures for Youth development in resistance training, skills or nutrition, give us a shout on email@example.com www.coachfinder.club.