Learning these core skills early and with great technique gives youth athletes a great foundation to build from as they mature into their chosen sports. Over the next couple of blogs, Billy Mitchell, Level 3 triathlon coach and the British Triathlon coach of the year in 2016 will show us some fun and challenging core and movement exercises that are sure to be a hit at your next junior strength training session!
"In the short space of time since I started coaching 12 years ago, I have noticed a decline in basic movement skills across the range of children I encounter. The reasons for this are complex, but a shift towards a more sedentary lifestyle and risk aversion among parents has led to a reduction in unstructured outdoor play. Things like throwing, catching, jumping, balancing, lifting and running in a socialised and informal play environment simply do not happen to the same extent nowadays. Often parents rely on schools to provide physical education, that many are not appropriately staffed or equipped to deliver. I read a steam of articles noting the same thing – many from long ago. While I usually only see children who are already engaged with sport, my visits to schools can be depressing to reflect on, as obesity and inactivity become the norm. A sizeable proportion of primary school children struggle to perform tasks such as catching a ball, doing a press-up or running backwards. The result is a generation of children with undeveloped movement skills who struggle with things we used to take for granted. This is bad news for athletic development, as it places a huge limitation on the ability of these youngsters to explore their physical abilities and will be a barrier to progress should they wish to pursue any activity involving movement – sport, dance or even a range of employment options with a physical component. Even more ominous is the health "time-bomb" that has been created.
Regardless of whether you are a parent or a coach, ensuring that young people learn basic movement and physical skills should be high on your agenda. Making this happen in a fun and interactive way is the key to working with juniors.
Children don’t practise or enjoy things the same way as adults. While you might be able follow a programme that asks for 10 squats, 12 lunges, 10 press-ups etc, often a kids can get bored quickly. When an activity ceases to be enjoyable, it just won’t get done. I've found that the best way to get kids enthused about doing some basic movement exercises is to turn them into puzzles, challenges and games.
Here is the first of my top fundamental movement and core training exercises with thoughts on how to add some challenge and dynamics to keep it interesting and make it fun for junior athletes.
A way of asking children to perform the movement in a more dynamic and fun way is to set up a line of small hurdles that they can jump across whilst landing in a squat position. Challenge them to collect cones on the way. This exercise requires concentration, good technique and hand-eye coordination. You can make it more challenging over time by adding more hurdles, spacing them out or making them higher.
In this next exercise we challenge the athlete further. Catching and throwing from a squat position and reacting to an unknowing direction challenge!
Be sure to watch out for more fundamental skills exercises for juniors from Billy in the near future.
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