If you bend your credit card, what will happen? A nasty little crease down the middle, right?
Now, what if you continually bent, folded, twisted it apart? Through gradual stress of wear and tear It would eventually break apart right?
Same thing with the repetitive stress of sport!
There’s a reason athletes don’t play games, back to back because stress accumulates and builds up if you don’t rest and recover from that stress than you are more likely perform at a lower-level and also drastically more likely to increase your injury rate.
“Athletes who specialized in one sport were twice as likely to report previously sustaining a lower-extremity injury while participating in sports (46%) than athletes who did not specialize (24%). In addition, specialized athletes sustained 60 percent more new lower-extremity injuries during the study than athletes who did not specialize.”
More than 60% of student athletes were exposed to new lower limb injuries!
This alarming injury rate in youth athletes can stem from the fact most sports demand an asymmetrical motion such as a pitcher who constantly throws from their throwing side, a baseball swing constantly in one direction, a lacrosse player who shoots from their dominant side.
This creates a repetitive pattern and motion that an athlete’s body becomes highly efficient at and ingrains a motor pattern in their brain which an athlete needs to succeed and allows them to perform at a high level.
There is also a downfall that comes along with this (especially when competition is involved) and that is that the body will do whatever it takes to complete the task you ask of it, even if it’s less than optimal or inefficient way to achieve the desired outcome.
You see this most common in throwing athletes , they’ll say “he throws with his arm” which means he’s using too much of his shoulder to throw the ball. He’s not driving enough from his lower body which places excess stress across his shoulder, elbow and wrist joints when that same stress should be distributed more throughout his powerful hips, legs and trunk which are made for producing and withstanding those higher forces.
Which leads us to the Law Of Repetitive Motion:
We’ll stick with baseball for this example in the top part of this equation:
In order to figure out when an injury can occur to these tissues (muscle, ligament , tendon etc.) shown by the letter (I), you have to multiply the number of reps (N) x the force of each rep (F).
(So again baseball, let’s say N = pitch count and F = velocity, so let’s say he threw 88 pitches x 75 mph)
Now, in order to reduce the top part of the equation, are you going to reduce the velocity in which he’s throwing the baseball? No! That’s why kids come in and train with us, not just because they like training, but because they want to throw 90, so throwing slower or reducing (F) is not an option…
Should we reduce the number of reps thrown (N)? Yes and no.
Of course, we could reduce the pitch count, but he needs to be able to go deep into the game for his team and be able to throw 70+ pitches or he won’t be earning a scholarship any time soon. Therefore we need to keep his forces (F) and number of reps (N) relatively high, closely monitored and appropriately progressed.
In order offset the repetitive stress of sport the doctors in this video below talk about repetitive stress injuries and how to address that issue in youth training.
So the two questions we must address about quality training are:
The easiest way to get your muscles, ligaments, tendons stronger is through strength and speed training. You must apply stress so the muscle gets bigger and stronger which will increase the athlete’s ability to throw harder because they can produce more force. In addition to being able to produce more force, the stronger muscle will also be able to absorb more force which is important whether it’s the baseball players rotator cuff, a football player who has to make a sharp cut or a lacrosse player who needs to create a scoring opportunity. All scenarios will require an athlete to produce and absorb force such is explosive sport motion!
Youth athletes should start participating in a strength and conditioning program young as 8 years old and continue throughout their entire development to maximize performance but also create a healthy and active lifestyle.
Training guidelines for youth athletes can be seen here set by the Long-Term Athletic Development model of Canada:
A simple way to keep their training and skill practice relatively high is through two things:
Properly progressed training for youth athletes or any athlete can be for their sport or in the weight room, we’ll use the baseball player in this example:
After the off-season you start a throwing program, let’s say it starts with 40 throws / workout and progressively builds up to 100 throws / workout over the course of a 3-4 month time span.
This allows the athlete to build strength and resiliency to the specific motion he/she will be performing without doing too much, too quickly. Doing too much, too quickly causes injury and could force them to miss a season or perform less than optimal during their sport season if they are always dealing with a chronic injury.
The same is true if you do too much in the weight room too quickly. Many times an athlete will start to develop tendonitis (inflammation and achy sensation) of a certain joint, let’s say the elbow for the throwing athlete.
Optimizing movement efficiency comes down to teaching and coaching of technical skills, the “how to” perform a task such as throwing a baseball properly. When the athlete is coached up, they can learn how to use their body to maximize their performance instead of relying inefficient motions that can lead to injury with repetitive use such as the elbow joint from the heavy “arm thrower” example above.
Again, in the weight room if an athlete has elbow pain during a rowing exercise, it can be modified by changing his hand grip to a more neutral position (thumbs up) to avoid additional stress to the elbow. This will make him /her more efficient and they’ll get more out of the training while minimizing risk of injury.
Not only does an off-season allow the athlete a mental break from the sport, and time to get a more variety of skills to become a faster and stronger athlete, it also allows them to get more high-quality reps in of their sport specific motion due to increased muscular strength while avoiding overuse injuries caused by the repetitive stress of sports motions.
Kids need to practice their sport skill to master their craft, they have to put in the work. We just don’t want them doing too much of one thing (their sport) and not enough of the other (training, playing other sports, being a kid).
What an athlete does all year will affect their performance for their sport so it should follow a periodization model which simply means, a plan for training.
Having a plan in place to maximize performance (throwing velocity and hitting) and minimize injuries (overuse injuries / rotator cuff) is what a strength and conditioning coach can do for youth athletes by shifting the training focus around the time of the year.
Sticking with Baseball, here’s a periodization plan for High School Baseball:
Each “period” (Off-Season / Pre-Season / In-Season) of the year will have a primary focus and secondary focus with developing physical qualities for the athlete. But all things done for the entire year should be focused on improving baseball specific goals such as sprinting faster, throwing harder, increasing bat speed etc. in one form or another (see below).
|Baseball||Off-Season (Aug-Nov)||Pre-Season (Dec-Feb)||In-Season (Mar-July)|
|Primary Focus||Speed / Strength Training (3-4x / week)||Baseball Specific Work (throwing, hitting etc.)||Play Baseball!|
|Secondary Focus||Baseball Specific Tasks (throwing, hitting etc.)||Speed / Strength Training (2-3x / week)||Strength Training (1-2x/week)|
The deciding factor in the development of the physical qualities is the timing of when to perform certain exercises in an athlete’s training plan so they can be prepared for the specific tasks to perform their sport at their highest level.
To make this example more vivid, there’s no good reason to have a baseball player run a mile because it’s not required in their sport, but it IF you did have them run a mile, it would be better suited in their Off-Season phase of training (but there are much better methods to get better conditioning benefits for the athlete).
As you start in the Off-Season you will do much more general work that DOES NOT mimic baseball, but these things are still going to help improve their performance come the beginning of the season.
Things like lifting weights, building up their aerobic base for endurance, address asymmetries in movement patterns, let’s the body restore from the repetitive motions of baseball.
As you start transition to the Pre-Season you will see a shift of baseball specific work starting to take the primary focus of dialing in your arm slot, timing of swings while, all things that you’ll do for your sport while you continue speed / strength training, but it’s just less of the focus because we want to do baseball things very well, not lift weights very well.
While athletes still can and should train In-Season…they need to play their sport to full potential!
Parents have work, food, tournaments, picking up kids etc. to worry about and simply is not much of a realistic thing to add one more thing on their task list, so don’t bother.
Everything the athlete does should be focused on improving the performance of their sport, but it should not always mimic the sport motions.
According to what FootballScoop found about college coaches and their affinity for multi-sport athletes many of the big time college football programs such as Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame that more than 85% (61 of 72 total recruits were multi-sport participants— TrackingFootball.com (@TrckFootball) August 5, 2014
Think Urban Meyer’s staff just recruits from specialized camps and 7vs7, think again, 47 recruits since 2013 and 42 (89%) HS multi-sport — TrackingFootball.com (@TrckFootball) January 12, 2015
The reason we believe multi-sport athletes have a higher success rate than single sport athletes can be visualized through knowing how to build a skyscraper.
Did you know before they build a skyscraper….they first dig into the earth.
That’s right, they dig DOWN into the opposite direction, into the hard core of the earth before building up.
Because they know that if they want this skyscraper to withstand the test of time, heavy winds and not fall over, they need to anchor a solid foundation!
Youth athletes development should be viewed in a similar way.
The first phase of youth athlete training is to establish a HUGE foundation (fundamental movement) and you do that by playing multiple sports / activities from a young age which will give them a competitive advantage as they mature and develop (see Long-Term Athletic Development photo earlier in the post).
This benefit of this foundational phase is variety and diversity of skills such as:
The variety and mixture of tasks are working from a young age to teach the athlete how to respond to all of the different stimuli to the brain whether through eyesight, feel, audio or any of the other main senses.
So what if from an early age, the kid only played football, he’s known one sport and one task to catch a football.
Say later, he wanted to play baseball in high school, while he’ll still be equipped to play baseball he could be lacking simple motor skills he could’ve developed at a younger age to help him later in his career.
If that sounds goofy, check out why college coaches are seeking out multi-sport athletes:
The Notre Dame women’s basketball team is ranked #2 and undefeated thanks in part to remarkable sophomore Jewel Loyd of the Chicago area. Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw says there is no doubt Loyd is the greatest athlete they have ever had player for the Irish. This week in a story in the Toledo Blade, Loyd attributes her foot work in basketball to fast reflexes needed in the doubles game. She also says her hand-eye coordination was helped greatly by playing tennis.
Chris Bates, head coach at Princeton, says his own son Nick plays lacrosse, soccer and basketball.
“He plays these sports because he loves to do so,” said Bates. “But even now, some of his coaches want him to play across several seasons. We have to draw some limits, and explain that in the spring, he’ll be playing lacrosse and not soccer, which he plays in the fall. The boundaries have to be clear. I’d frown on having my son play just one sport. There are lots of transitive properties — things like spacing, vision and defensive footwork — that he brings from one sport to the other.”
In addition to having his own son play multiple sports coach Bates went on to share how he believes high school athletes might actually be “peaked” in high school where some might have already hit their full potential and will start to burn out while multi-sport athletes will have a bigger advantage and opportunity to grow and “blossom” into an even better athlete once they specialize in their sport.
This allows the athletes to be kids which allowed them to play and develop properly. It’s great to see even how these athletes start to recognize and correlate certain skills from other sports and how they cross-over into their “main” sport such as in this ESPN article highlights how:
Of the 128 quarterbacks surveyed — 73 active, 55 retired — 122 played at least two sports in high school (95 percent). Nearly 70 percent played three or more. Five backups (Matt Flynn, Matt Barkley, Tom Savage, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger) were the only active players to report single-sport participation.
While science, top level sport coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, researchers all point to athletes playing multiple sports for very valid reasons it’s even more impactful coming from the athletes themselves.
In this video of Christian McCaffery a NCAA College Football Player Of The Year in 2015 and running back for Standford University was interviewed in high school and offers his perspective as a youth athlete on playing multiple sports: