As a coach, I am constantly asked questions about how a child/adolescent can become successful as an athlete. The most common questions I’m asked by parents and the athletes as well are 1)What types of food should my child eat? 2) When should they start weight training? 3) Should he/she concentrate on only one sport or should they be involved in multiple sports? These are all extremely important questions to ask, but unfortunately, depending upon who you ask, you may find that there will be multiple answers for each. Nutrition, by itself, will supply you with more than enough contraindication and misinformation to last a lifetime. In this article, my hope is that you come away with a better understanding of each of these questions and I will do my best to supply you with resources to investigate further.
The first question regarding food intake is far beyond the scope of this and many other articles due to the complexity of the subject. So instead of writing a snippet, based upon my own experiences and prejudices, I will list several sources that can be investigated. This way, you will be able to use your own experiences and prejudices to make informed decisions for your particular situation. Before I list these sources, it should be pointed out to the reader that these sources are holistic-based and therefore will not include specific, “one-size-fits-all” diets.
1. http://www.mercola.com (very broad health and nutrition website, that is very informative)
2. http://www.westonaprice.org (the foundation of nutritional information)
3. http://www.price-pottenger.org (the combined website of two pioneers in the field of nutrition)
4. [http://www.personaltrainingonthenet.com] (a website that should be the foundation for all health professionals; includes information on nutrition, exercise, lifestyle changes, etc. This site requires a $9.50 per month fee.)
5. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price
6. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
7. Pottenger’s Cats by Francis M. Pottenger
The second question that is usually asked is When should my son/daughter begin weight training? This is a great question that requires a great answer, which unfortunately rarely happens. The common response from the “experts” in the field usually either that they have no definite answer or they say, “as soon as they can.” The subject of resistance training with youth is a complicated one since there is so much misinformation in lay publications. Too often have I witnessed a pre-teen in a gym setting with their parents or off on their own lifting weights that are too heavy or performing exercises suited for bodybuilders. While the parent should be applauded for introducing their child to a potentially positive hobby, they should be careful with how early they introduce them to resistance training.
First off, a child doesn’t finish physical development until their early to late 20’s. This is an important point to make, since resistance training can be extremely stressful to an individuals joints and connective tissues at any age. If a child’s tissues haven’t fully developed and they are subjected to forces greater than what could be considered normal, there is an increased risk of irreparable damage. This can be seen in many trainees that begin around 13 or 14 years of age and end up requiring major surgery before high school graduation (author included). Far too many cases of ACL/MCL/PCL tears have begun to appear as early as 15 in our area as a result of improper training protocol and age of exposure. I personally know of a half dozen cases of this, with one individual in particular that has received two ACL repairs before the age of 17! This should not be happening!
So when should your child be introduced to resistance training? A good rule of thumb could be shortly after they begin puberty and only in a very limited fashion. The types of exercises should be bodyweight and/or light implement types, I.e. bodyweight squats, pull-ups, light dumbbells on a Swiss ball. The total volume (total amount of reps in a given session) should be kept extremely low for the first year or two of training as well as the intensity (amount of weight per rep) of the exercise.
The third question, Should my child concentrate on only one sport or should I be involved in multiple sports, is one that requires your child’s input as well as many educated decisions. To begin, a concept must first be understood, and that is the concept of Biomotor ability. Bio, refers to life and motor refers to movements making Biomotor ability an individual’s particular strengths and weaknesses in life movements. Why is this important? Since every sport requires specific Biomotor abilities, an athlete will be required to be proficient in them in order to succeed at elite levels. Common logic would then say that the child should then choose only one sport early on because this will help them concentrate on the abilities that they need the most for their particular sport. For example, a baseball pitcher would require high levels of power, coordination, balance and flexibility with the others being less necessary to achieve success. So logically, specializing in baseball would ensure that the child reaches his/her full physical potential…right? Not necessarily.
First we must understand how power is developed in the first place to realize how flawed this ideology is. In order to develop optimal power, the child must first have a solid structural/stabilizer system that can withstand the forces placed upon it naturally. The next component needed before power can specifically be trained is strength which should only be trained once the stabilizer system is adequate. So we can now see that in order to have one of the Biomotor abilities necessary, other abilities must be focused on first. How is this accomplished? By using other activities and/or sports as “supplemental” training for their favorite sport. Think about it. How many times have you been watching college or professional sports and the commentators are talking about the past of a particular athlete? How many of these athletes were top ranked quarterbacks, pitchers and point guards in high school? This further demonstrates the need for additional activities/sports to achieve a high level of success. So the next time a coach gives your child an ultimatum requiring them to choose between sports, hopefully this article helps with the debate that will no doubt ensue.