Invasion Of The Body Snatchers
There’s something strange happening to a large number of adolescent and pre-adolescent children on sports pitches every where.
It’s not a new phenomena, but it seems to be getting worse and is occurring right under our noses. If the national media get hold of it it will be labelled an epidemic.
It’s not obesity… or acne… or the sudden personality change. Something far more disturbing.
Young, talented, hard-working sports people across The land appear to be having their bodies snatched, and replaced with the body of someone who has never played sport before.
It’s heartbreaking. One minute your child is an athletic young player enjoying their sport and displaying all the attributes of a future champion. The next they look as coordinated as a new-born giraffe on roller skates.
Years of hard work. Hours of dedicated practice and honing of their skills seems to have disappeared.
Not only that, but they spend most of their time with niggling injuries. Knee pain. Unidentifiable muscle pains. Thigh strains. Shin splints. Back ache.
The doctor tells you it’s growing pains and will pass.
The physio advice is to stretch the tight muscles to regain mobility.
So they stretch their hamstrings, quads and groin. They do it for a while but then give up.
Then on the return to the Physio, there’s a stand-off. The Physio says they aren’t seeing any improvement because they aren’t complying with the stretching. The child’s says the stretching feels like it’s going to snap and saw no improvement so lost the motivation to do it.
In the mean time, your young player is rapidly losing confidence. They have had to adapt the way they move to still play their sport with their new body. And these awful movement patterns are becoming permanently ingrained.
Players who were way behind them on the pecking order are now overtaking them.
The sport they loved is now just a constant source of frustration and inadequacy. Nobody has an answer for them and the coaches that couldn’t do enough for them a year ago, now seem to have little interest in their issues.
As a parent it’s painful to watch. You can see the pain and anguish they’re going through, but feel helpless.
This is one of the key reasons I formed Speed Academy. The majority of young players that come to me are in this exact situation.
Most parents don’t see the need for dedicated athletic development until certain developmental issues highlight the deficiencies in sports training and school PE.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
When you understand what’s happening, it’s actually quite a simple solution.
Even better, if you have kids who are yet to go through this stage, it’s avoidable.
The medical advice that many parents get told is that the bones grow in spurts while the muscles and tendons grow at a steady rate.
So there will be periods, where the bones get too long for the muscles, making them tight.
So the answer is to wait until the soft tissue catches up and you can speed the process by stretching.
I used to advise this too. It kind of makes sense.
But then, when I started working more with young athletes, I actually had a chance to see what was going on.
The kids presenting with Osgood-Schlatter disease and other related knee problems all had the same faulty movement patterns.
Movement patterns that would cause huge stress for the knee joint and tendons. Allied to the multi-directional nature of the sports that they played and you have all the mechanisms for a chronic knee problem.
So what was the nature of this faulty movement pattern?
Why was it happening to young people that previously moved so well?
To demonstrate what’s happening, you need a hammer.
Get a big mallet and hold it in one hand half way down the shaft and lift it up and down using just your wrist.
Your wrist represents the hip, the shaft is the thigh, and the hammer mead represents the additional weight of the lower leg and foot.
Shift your hand a couple of inches further away from the head and repeat. Not as easy, huh?
Now try holding it right at the end.
This is how it feels when your thigh bone rapidly grows.
Where previously, the body could handle the shorter limb through a full range, the now longer and heavier levers create a higher strength demand.
The hip muscles can only control these levers through a much shorter range. Anything outside this range would be beyond the capabilities of the muscles thus leading to possible tear.
So in order to protect them from being torn, the body limits the length available.
With certain muscles shortened, movements have to adapt.
Feet splay out like a clown when trying to accelerate.
When they decelerate, the back bends like a willow tree in the wind. And posture all round is weak.
When they try to run, it looks like their feet are stuck in treacle. It looks like the whole body gets involved in dragging the foot off the floor and through for the next stride. Knee lift is none existent.
This isn’t a flexibility issue.
It’s a strength one.
We need to create a buffer zone of strength in the hip and trunk muscles. Then and only then, will the body will remove the safety restrictions.
Therefore, through this growth period the focus should be on postural awareness, and full spectrum strength through full range of movement.
Basic strength exercises performed with good technique are all that is required here.
With this understanding it is possible to prepare your players in advance so that the growth spurt has a minimal effect on their athleticism and hence enjoyment of sport.
It is criminal that young athletes – even those in professional football and rugby academies – can fall completely out of the system having shown so much promise.
It’s unnecessary if robust training systems are in place and the children, coaches and parents are educated and buy into it.
As part of my ‘Developing The Growing Athlete’ month I’ll be holding an educational workshop for parents and coaches on Thursday 17th April.
If you’re interested in helping your child/ren achieve their potential and continue to enjoy playing sport then please contact me via email, Facebook or Twitter for further details.
If you have found this article useful, I would be most grateful if you could share it in the usual social media channels.
Yours in speed