In today’s youth sports culture, where the focus is on getting better, stronger, faster to play at higher and higher levels, Akron Children’s lead athletic trainer Kyle Harper says it’s easy to lose sight of what’s best for your student-athlete.
As an athletic trainer at Firestone CLC and mom of 3, Kyle is constantly confronted with finding the right balance for helping all of her young athletes play at peak performance, while keeping their bodies and minds healthy and strong.
That’s why she stands by these 3 rules she finds imperative for all young athletes to excel in their sport. Some may seem counterintuitive, but to Kyle they are vital for building a well-rounded athlete and reducing the risk of burnout and injury.
Rest and recovery is non-negotiable.
Parents should give kids active rest in between each sports season for about 2 to 3 weeks. Kids can still run, play and do light strength training, but sport-specific activity, such as batting cages or pitching, where kids are doing the same repetitive movement, is not appropriate.
Rest gives kids’ growing bodies time to repair, rebuild and strengthen muscles and body tissues, such as tendons and ligaments, in between sports seasons. If you want your student athlete to keep up at his sport, active rest and recovery is imperative.
“Rest isn’t a punishment, it’s a necessity,” said Kyle, whose house rule is one sport per season and her kids must take a few weeks off in between seasons. “These little bodies aren’t made to work so hard—physically or mentally. If you can instill ground rules to self-regulate early on, the odds of burnout, overuse or traumatic injuries can be mitigated.”
Incorporating flexibility and mobility exercises are a must.
Strengthening and conditioning exercises are important to improve performance, but what many young athletes don’t realize is flexibility and mobility exercises are just as vital. Flexibility exercises stretch the muscles for better mobility to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury.
“My son was having trouble getting a good drive because his hamstrings were tight and his posture wasn’t great,” Kyle said. “We’re working on these things to help make golf easier for him, but also to be a better functioning human. Some people are born with such ability, but if they don’t incorporate mobility exercises, they will only be able to go so far.”
Kyle suggests trying yoga for full body stretching, or focusing flexibility exercises on a particular part of the body if your child is feeling stiff and sore. For example, doing bridges, clamshells or using a loop band for lateral walking can help strengthen the hips to relieve pain and improve performance.
In addition, incorporating a dynamic warmup, such as hip circles, heel-toe walking and high skips, take the joints through a full range of motion before intense activity to help reduce injury.
Teaching kids positive self-talk is important for strong mental health.
Kids are going to strike out, miss foul shots or penalty kicks. That’s all part of the game. But, when kids get down on themselves and talk unkindly about their performance, it creates an unhealthy mental habit. Believe it or not, a negative mentality can negatively affect a child’s performance.
Instead, teach kids to be kind to themselves and think positively. You can model the appropriate behavior by saying positive remarks, such as “You’ll make the shot next time,” or “At least you made contact with the ball.”
“Everyone is their own worst critic, especially when it comes to non-team sports,” said Kyle. “It’s amazing what positive self-talk can do for improving a child’s performance and overall well-being.”