Pro Locker Room Conditioning for Kids

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Psychological Profile

The psyche of each child is an often overlooked component of this complete evaluation. We tend to think either the parents fully control what a child does or the child is a mere clone of what all kids should be like and will respond robotically to whatever we ask for. Somewhere along the way, this whole idea has to make sense to the child or the spirit behind the program will never become lit. Without a true spirit on behalf of the child, no program will reach full potential. It's far more logical to determine the formula needed to light the fire in this child before going on to the next phase of the program. A built-in motivation, to some degree, is mandatory and should be sought for the success of a program.

Some kids become motivated immediately when you inform them that this is exactly what Jason Williams, Mark McGwire, Peyton Manning, or whoever they may be able to relate to, had to do when they were kids to become the stars they've become. Sacrifice and discipline led them to success.

Other kids aren't moved by that type of motivation, so it's important to attempt to find something that will fuel their fire. For example, a child may have a weight problem, and that can become the source of motivation. Or, the child may already have some back pain, knee pain, neck pain, etc., and that can become the source for motivation. But, something has to fuel each and every kid, as hard as it may be to find the exact motivator. And the motivation should never be only because the parent wants the child to do it. Someone needs to find out what will make the child motivated, as the parent/child source for motivation will hit a dead-end at some point. If a motivational source can't be found, the long term success of any fitness program goes down.

Biomechanical Exam

Once a dialogue has been reached, a biomechanical evaluation (see side bar) should be done. Scoliosis screenings are today's version of a biomechanical exam. These screenings, many of which are performed by unskilled people, in no way locate the many specific biomechanical imbalances, fixations, irritations and defects that all kids are forced to cope with. Each child's structure is like their fingerprint, totally unique, and locating their imbalances, anomalies, areas of increased stress and sites of potential injuries is paramount in removing the artificial ceiling of physical capacity when starting this program.

Treatment Recommendations

When thinking in terms kids and athletics, we tend to not think of any treatments unless there is some associated pain and/or disability. This thinking needs to be revised, as every child has some degree of structural imbalance, areas of vulnerability and decreased performance potential. A short leg, rotated pelvis, increased sacral base angle, hypolordosis of the lumbar spine or a myriad of other potential faults will hamper progress. The solution consists of corrective structural treatment, restoring motion, alignment and curvature to all areas of the spine, improved flexibility, understanding of proper physical habits, improved diet and specific exercise based on the interests of the child. In order to reach maximum potential for each child, we must accept that there is no shortcut to getting there. It's a tedious process, but the outcome is well worth the cost. We no longer can sit and wait for acute low back pain, a symptomatic Osgood-Schlatter's or frequent headaches before we begin treatment or changes, despite the fact that most health insurances suggest and encourage just that.

Fitness/Conditioning for Kids

When thinking in terms of fitness and conditioning for this age group, it's important to introduce first things first, as a "rush to glory", such as time trials in running or maximum weight lifting will typically produce injury. Also, without the full educational phase for conditioning, the body will never acquire the necessary "memory" needed for maximum potential. It's critical to remember when thinking in terms of conditioning for kids, their nervous system needs to go through a thorough education process. If this phase is cut short, the nervous system responsible for reflexes, quickness, coordination and speed will never fully develop. The nervous system, in kids under the age of 15, also learns at a rate possibly 5 times quicker than older kids and adults. We notice this phenomenon when teaching kids computers, skiing, tying shoes or other multi-faceted tasks. This window of time makes it even more important to invest whatever is needed to enhance this period for conditioning.

Secondly, due to the influence of end zone dances, high fives and MTV celebrations seen on TV, many kids have a hard time learning to walk before they run. If the preliminary parts of a conditioning program are eliminated or cut short, the ultimate potential will be compromised.

Regardless of what sport a child is preparing for, basic conditioning will be mostly the same for all kids. Running, jumping, skipping, jump roping and jumping jacks are some of the simple drills kids automatically perform. Skipping, for example, has a plyometric component to it, a rhythm and timing component as well as a benefit for overall coordination. For young basketball players, skipping simulates the difficult mechanics needed to take a lay-up. Kids can use their arms in a lay-up fashion as they do their skipping drills. With many of the more sophisticated exercises or sport-specific exercises, all kids should be able to perform these 5 basic movements and be in reasonable shape, both physically as well as cardio-vascularly, before beginning them.

Second-level exercises can consist of carioca, a foot-work drill performed over a certain distance, that helps to build coordination and foot speed. Also, step-ups, such as on a stool or even a step, will help to build muscles, strength and coordination. Step-overs involve an athlete either performing the drill head-on or sideways. One version is to step over something like a broomhandle, with a 1-2-3 pattern and then step back with the same 1-2-3 pattern. This can be done 25-50 times for quickness and coordination. Step drills, going up a flight of stairs, where the child has to lead with the right and follow with the left, and then lead with the left and follow with the right, will help to improve focus and coordination.
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