Preparing children to move is a fundamental skill for any coach. Times are changing and children are frequently arriving for their session in quite a different neurophysical state to what they might have twenty years ago, but warm ups themselves in many quarters have not evolved to meet modern demands.
What do I mean by this?
Effective movement requires “relaxed readiness”. The body is ready, the nervous system calm, present and responsive. There is a steady “hum” in the nervous system that can call the body into action instantly. What I see frequently however is kids who are too tense or “switched on”, leading to injury due to poor shock absorption and impaired ability to move body segments independently, and kids who are too switched off, leading to injuries associated with poor posture, joint control issues, balance and coordination. One group is humming at too high a noise level, and the other is barely audible.
For a young athlete to be able to achieve that state of relaxed readiness, they need two things. They need to be able to sense themselves in the present moment, and they need to be able to connect throughout their bodies. However, they arrive at their session with their heads full of input from multiple sources and they have never been so “disembodied”. They cannot “hear” themselves.
More and more children seem to be unable to sense their bodies unless they are creating high muscle tension which makes lots of sensory noise. Asking them to relax can actually just switch their engines off.
Starting a session with slow jogging and easy work with a focus on releasing tension seems logical, but can actually drop a child’s muscle activation through their boots.
Long ground contact times, sloppy footwork and switched off posture are common responses, and the child becomes even less prepared for the session ahead. The next hour is frustrating for everyone, as the progress is slow and the kids become tired and fed up.
If you replace this with sensory dynamic work, everything changes. Whether the child presents as low tone (switched off) or high tone (too switched on), feeding sensory input into the body recalibrates muscle activity, increases their awareness and starts to bring the mind into focus in the body.
To spark them up, start by feeding sensory input in as you get them to slap up their hands up and down their legs and arms, and shake their limbs as fast as they can to create a vibrational sensation. Have them sense their feet on the ground, feeling the pressure change as they circle around the perimeter of their feet, and shift their weight from toes to heels, inside to outside. Now would be a great time to practice some small jumps to land on one foot, having woken up their balance systems.
Help them to sense their arms, legs and torso moving, twisting and bending. Introduce some cross body coordination, tapping opposite hand to knee, opposite hand to foot, both front and back, and then mixing the combinations for even more coordination challenge.
The possibilities are endless, so get creative! Warm ups are not routine exercises to get through before starting the “real” session. They are what make the magic happen if you get them right. If as a coach you think that you can’t afford the time, let me tell you, you cannot afford not to. Whenever a coach has met my challenge of testing his or her beliefs about warm ups, every single one has come back saying that the quality of the session is so improved after a dynamic preparation that lights up their young athletes that they are actually going to do even more of it!
So to help your child athletes achieve relaxed readiness, bring them first into their bodies. By age 9, many of them arrive at training with all the energy and noise in their heads and no sense of their body. Learning to actively feel and understand their body can be an intrinsic part of training, can improve results within training, and is a gift that extends beyond finish time at the track.
For more information, visit www.jemsmovement.com
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