It wasn’t uncommon, years ago, for children to play multiple sports and not settle on one until high school, if at all. These kids were all-around good athletes because they needed a range of skills to be successful.
Today, more children are focusing on one sport at a younger age and playing it exclusively. This means they have specialized skills but often lack general fitness, endurance and strength.
“A child might be able to dribble a soccer ball well, but he can’t do simple movements such as running, jumping and cutting that are needed to be successful,” said Garrett Buschjost, head trainer at the MU Human Performance Institute in Columbia. “Too many children are under-generalized and overspecialized.”
If a child who has only played one sport wants to try another, he or she might not have the skills to be successful. Although specific training regimens are necessary to achieve the best results, Buschjost offers these basic tips for young people to increase their overall fitness level.
1. Be active
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends children and teens be physically active for 60 minutes or more each day. This should include aerobic activity, muscle-strengthening activities and bone-strengthening activities.
Buschjost said families should develop active lifestyles that include daily walking or running. This will help keep children away from screens (TV, computer, etc.) and build a healthy habit that will serve them well — on the playing field and in life.
2. Build strength
Whether children are active in sports or not, simple weight training can increase fitness and overall health. This falls under the muscle-strengthening activities recommended by the CDC.
Buschjost said the best way for children to increase strength is through body weight exercises. Functional movements such as squats, lunges, push-ups and pull-ups are most effective and help build muscles needed in everyday life as well as in sports. Young athletes can progress to resistance-based training after they master each movement, Buschjost said.
3. Eat well
This tip applies to everyone — children and adults — but it’s often easier said than done. However, proper nutrition is essential to athletic performance, especially for children whose bodies are growing.
Buschjost said children should limit junk food, soda and sports drinks and think FASTER:
- Fill up on fruits and vegetables.
- Always hydrate water is best.
- Start with breakfast.
- Think lean protein.
- Eat often.
- Rest and recovery.
4. Get sleep
The R in FASTER emphasizes the importance of rest and recovery, and a big part of that is getting a good night’s sleep. Muscles need time to recover a er exercise, and that’s especially true for children.
One of the biggest obstacles to sleep is technology. Many adolescents “go to bed” only to spend an hour or more texting with friends or watching videos. This not only keeps them up while they’re using the device, but it can also interrupt their sleep cycle.
Buschjost said well-meaning parents might schedule more games or practice because they’re trying to help their children improve. Sometimes, he said, the best option is to forgo that extra workload and instead let the kid get some shut eye.
Focus on health
Buschjost advises children and parents to focus on overall health and fitness and to remember that specialization can lead to overuse injuries and uneven skill development. The best athletes are those who focus on the fundamentals before specializing, he said.
Bill Meister of Columbia said his children, Ryan and Haley, have shown healthier behaviors after they started training at the MU Human Performance Institute.
“They are much more positive and confident in themselves, not only in sports, but also in school and socially,” Meister said. “I think both Ryan and Haley will have great habits throughout life by starting this early and hopefully will continue to exercise regularly throughout life.”
Building on the basics
There are several exercises that children can do to increase their performance. Andy Ciolino, 11, and Haley Meister, 14, two clients of MU Human Performance Institute, demonstrate variations of these common exercises. You can add weights to increase difficulty after the bodyweight exercise is mastered.
Learn more about MU Human Performance Institute at muhumanperformance.com.