LOUIS — Eric Lay, the head trainer at Mary Institute and St.
Louis Country Day School, loves to see student athletes
succeed, but he and fellow trainers aren’t always impressed
with fastballs or hat-tricks.
more concerned about whether the athletes can do a decent
push-up without their body undulating like a worm. Can they do
leg lunges without flailing their arms, wobbling or falling to
one side? Are they able to touch their toes? Pull up to their
chin? Can they shuttle back and forth?
nutshell, trainers want to know whether these kids really know
how to properly and safely move, and later, can they add
strength to those established movements?
all part of a growing push among trainers and others in
fitness fields to get schools, parents, coaches and kids back
to basics with physical fitness. Instead of focusing primarily
on acquiring fitness through organized youth sports — an
exploding business with many well-meaning but poorly trained
coaches — they want parents and kids to refocus and acquire
proper movement skills beginning as early as kindergarten and
progressing all the way through high school.
sounds like a throwback to gym class, it is. Those movements
first emphasized in P.E. — skipping, lunging, twisting,
jumping, stopping and starting, to name a few — are the
building blocks of high-performing athletes and the key to
enjoying all sorts of recreational activities that encourage
lifelong fitness, said Larry Meadors, a former national high
school strength and conditioning coach with the National
Association of Strength and Fitness and author of a paper
urging "physical literacy" among youth.
"For some ungodly reason we’ve skipped teaching
fundamental movement," Meadors said.
all learned the alphabet, and as we learned the alphabet we
learned how to put two letters and then three and then four to
form words, and pretty soon we had a word, a sentence, a
paragraph, a chapter, a book. And you should apply the same
things for athletics."
age where kids have seemingly endless opportunities to play
sports outside of school, all-around good movement is not
always something Lay says he sees with seasoned middle and
high school players. That particularly can be the case with
specialized year-round, single sport athletes. Often he’ll
see unbalanced movement, out of whack from years of kicking
with one leg in soccer or pitching and throwing on a softball
or baseball team.
physical fitness deficits can lead to injuries. That’s
because the kids do the same thing over and over again, and
coaches and organizations can have little emphasis on proper
training beyond a few sometimes misguided skills drills.
want their kids to be physically active, and sports is an
option. So a lot of people think, if my kid is in a sport,
that takes care of it," Lay said. "Sport skills are
great, but there has to also be some training in fundamental
a retired 50-year educator who runs a conditioning program in
the Burnsville, Minn., school district, said he’s seen a
significant decline in movement skills in kids over the past
have 11th- and 12th-graders — 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds —
that have the same absolute movement skill deficiencies as
it is due to a decline in physical education in schools and a
more sedentary lifestyle. Yet kids also face problems in
competitive youth sports, where they learn a limited regimen
of movements basic to the sport but may lack other critical
movement skills to help them fully succeed.
sports skill is only a sports skill, it’s part of the game.
But there is a ton of stuff the human body does above those
skills that hone that performance," Meadors said.
sports in several metropolitan areas is exploding at a very
early age with increased competition, seemingly unlimited
options to play and pressure to compete in a single sport,
year-round. It has led to a rapid increase in injuries even
before middle school.
than 3.5 million kids 14 and younger are treated annually for
sports injuries, and the numbers are increasing. More than
half of all youth sports injuries are preventable. In about
half the cases, the injuries are associated with overuse,
often linked with the growing trend of children specializing
in one sport and playing year-round.
paper published with the National Strength and Conditioning
Association, Meadors said musculoskeletal injuries in youth
are the result of overall low strength levels, incorrect
landing mechanics, incorrect deceleration techniques, ligament
looseness, muscle tightness, overly developed quadriceps, and
over-reliance on a particular limb. These essentially are tied
to poor conditioning and a lack of knowing how to move
properly in a variety of fitness situations.
kids simply don’t know how to properly slow down and stop
when running. Others can’t land a jump properly, he said.
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has developed a list of appropriate of movements to learn and
perfect from kindergarten through middle school. The list is
extensive and progresses as kids develop and grow into their
though, few kids are getting formal conditioning training. A
survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows
only 3.8 percent of elementary schools, 7.9 percent of middle
schools and 2.1 percent of high schools nationwide provide
said movement deficits and injuries are roadblocks to
developing lifelong fitness. And Lay cited research that
suggested teen female athletes who suffered an injury in high
school were more likely to have weight problems later in life.
that the high percentage of youth athletes — about 70 —
who drop out of sports by high school because of burnout and
you see a sedentary lifestyle that contributes to obesity,
diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
says all he asks for is a greater conversation among schools,
parents, coaches and kids to identify the big connection
between proper movement skills, lifelong health and true
point, in the midst of intense game schedules, coaches lack
the time to learn proper conditioning or incorporate it into
limited practice schedules, he said.
we get to the point of 3.5 million kids injured in a given
year — that’s the fourth leading health risk by the World
Health Organization. There’s something wrong about
that," he said. "The media loves to hit on the
sedentary side and the link to obesity in kids, and that’s a
real critical issue. But so is misuse of kids in sports and
the mis-training of children."