I recently saw this chart of the players on the Ohio States football team that won the National Championship this year. I thought it was fascinating to see that 42 out of 47 players played multiple sports in high school. In fact in an article interviewing Urban Meyers, he said he prefers multi sport athletes. Obviously, he’s had some pretty good success in his coaching career.
Youth athletics can be a polarizing subject. I get it, I have kids. I want my son and daughter to win and be great at everything they try. I also realize that they won’t win everything or be great at everything. As parents, it’s our job to set our kids up to be good at whatever sports they try to be competitive in later on in life. Let’s be real, just because your kid is the t-ball champion doesn’t mean he’s going to be playing for the Braves. If you put him on the course to only play baseball from the time he’s 6 until he’s in college, it’s likely he’ll get burned out on baseball and have significant trouble with overuse injuries.
There are a few key areas we need to try to develop for our kids to help them be well rounded. If they choose to eventually focus on a specific sport, they should have a great foundation to do so with skill development in these areas.
1. Learn How To Fall
This may be the most under emphasized skill in youth sports. We all want our kids to be the fastest, tallest, strongest or most skilled. What we forget sometimes is that the best athletes are the ones that are the best at fundamentals. One of the most important fundamental skills is learning how to fall. If you know how to fall, you will be hurt less. If you’re hurt less you can practice more. If you can practice more you will get better.
I never had anyone teach me how to fall until I joined the Army. While in the Army I had the opportunity to go through the first level of both the Army and Marines combatives system. One of the first things we learned was rolling drills in the Army. This is heavily drawn from wrestling and jiu jitsu. The Marines system went one step further and taught many of the fundamental skills from judo. Learning how to fall correctly is a skill. I learned this the hard way being hip tossed repeatedly in practice. It can be a trial by fire sometimes. If you land wrong, it really hurts. If you land correctly, it doesn’t hurt. That’s some good incentive to learn how to fall correctly. Get your kids involved in some type of martial arts early. They will learn valuable body control skills and decrease their likelihood of injury in the future. My personal preference would be judo due to the emphasis on balance, hip control/strength and learning how to land correctly.
2. Learn How To Control Your Body
I love watching my kids develop in a number of ways. Seeing their speech, behavioral and reasoning skills improve is a daily occurrence. Watching my kids go from crawling to walking to now running is amazing. One thing you will notice about young kids however is that they all gain gross pattern skills like squatting naturally. The more advanced body control skills have to be developed through practice. One of my favorite sports to recommend parents get their kids involved in is gymnastics.
I recommend gymnastics for a number of reasons.
First, it’s one of the best ways to help your children develop body control. There is no external load and until your kids learn how to control their own body movement, there is no reason to add weight.
Second, it gets your kids inverted. This is great and undervalued skill. For those of you that started CrossFit as an adult, you will know first hand how difficult it can be to learn a handstand. I’ve seen 6 year old kids that go to gymnastics twice a week hold handstands longer than I ever have. Not only that, it’s a great way of developing and maintaining shoulder/thoracic mobility. This is great to offset the amount of time most of our kids end up sitting at school.
Third, it’s tiring. For those of you that are parents you’ll appreciate this one. A tired kid is a good kid!
3. Learn How To Be On A Team
This is an area where we can use a sport to help our kids with life skills. Learning how to fall is important from an injury prevention standpoint but I think is much more important to learn how to communicate with others. If you’re on a team, it’s no longer all about you. You have to run plays, help each other out and work together for a common goal.
My preference is to recommend parents get their kids involved in a sport that emphasizes lower extremity skill and one that emphasizes upper extremity skill. Two great examples of this would be soccer and baseball. They both do a great job of developing rotational power/coordination. Soccer also develops tons of lower body coordination and aerobic training. Baseball develops high quality hand eye coordination.
Get your kids on a team and have them learn how to work with others. It will be nothing but positive for them as they get older.
The recommendations in this post are a great way to help your kids develop an athletic base for any sport they may choose to seriously pursue in the future. They are by no means the only ways to develop baseline athleticism. I’m sure I have colleagues that may disagree with me on some of these points. Here’s something we should all agree on. Sports are a great way to learn body/movement skills and life lessons. They should also be fun. Your kids need to have fun and should be exposed to a number of different sports. They need to make mistakes, they need to lose, they need to win and they need to understand that no matter what it’s just a game and we support them.
Thanks for reading. Leave us a comment on what sports/aspects of sports you think are important for kids to develop.
“Everybody needs a coach. Every famous athlete, every famous performer has somebody who is coach — somebody who can say, ‘Is that what you really meant?’ and give them perspective. The one thing people are not really good at is seeing themselves as others see them. A coach really, really helps.” - Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google
I love this quote. In this quote, Eric Schmidt is talking about an executive or business coach. He’s a pretty successful man and he still relies on the help of an outside coach. The job of coach can take many different roles. You can be a sport specific coach like baseball, strength coach like CrossFit, or business coach like Eric references. I think there is a new breed of coaches that is very much necessary and underutilized: Physical Therapists.
Not surprising; right? The person writing this post is a Physical Therapist and he’s telling me we should view Physical Therapists as a coach. I’m a skeptical person by nature so my goal is to prove to you that I’m not an asshole out for self-promotion by the end of this.
There are a few reasons I feel the Physical Therapists fits perfectly in the role of a coach, but we have to distinguish one thing first: I am talking about Physical Therapists that have solid movement evaluation skills. I’ve pissed off some of my colleagues in the past with some bold statements so I will try to not piss anyone off here. There are many different ways to specialize as a Physical Therapist. You can work with kids, the geriatric population, neurologic disorders, sports, and a host of other areas. Not all Physical Therapists have continued their education after school to really learn about assessing and improving athletic movement. This doesn’t mean they are bad at their job. It means they have decided to continue their education in other areas.
To help you pick the right Physical Therapists/Coach, look for one that has training with at least one of two groups. The first is Gray Cook and Functional Movement Systems. This is the group that developed the Functional Movement Screen and also teaches a practitioner course called the Selective Functional Movement Assessment. I’ve been through three of these courses and I think they are great. The other group is MobilityWOD. Yes, I’m absolutely being biased here considering I teach for this group. Honestly though, if you are a CrossFit athlete in particular, the information MobilityWOD teaches is right up your alley. Look for a PT that has been exposed to both groups and they should have a strong understanding of movement assessment/correction.
Once you’ve found a competent Physical Therapist for the role of coach, you need to use them. I’m not just talking about when you’re hurt. This is a mindset I would love to see people change. You don’t wait until your engine locks up before you change your oil. Why wait until your body shuts down before you get some help? The first way to get help is to get your movement assessed. At Athletes’ Potential we use a mixture of the screens Functional Movement Systems teaches in the courses I’ve been to and movement minimum tests we teach with MobilityWOD. This tends to give us a very broad view of movement quality and quantity. Not only that, but it also allows us to see if there are any glaring side to side differences (asymmetries). Fixing these movement impairments leads to less injury and better performance. That’s two very good things.
Once you’ve been assessed, now it’s time for your Physical Therapist to either do some hands on work (dry needling, manual therapy, joint mobilizations) to address the problems and/or give you some homework. There should always be open communication between you and your Physical Therapist. They are now your movement/body maintenance coach. I typically recommend following up once very two to three months for a “check-up." No, this isn’t a turn your head to the side and cough check-up. This is looking at your movement again, seeing change, doing hands-on work if needed, and progressing what you are doing at the gym.
Look, you only have one body. Most of us take ours for granted until it breaks down on us. I’ve been there as well. I’ve had multiple injuries during my time in the Army and I didn’t start taking care of my body until I stumbled across MobilityWOD a few years ago. A Physical Therapist has a unique skill set of medical knowledge, movement assessment and hands on manual skills. One should be an integral part of your training in particular if you’re a CrossFit athlete. Our motto is "Movement is Medicine" and we really do believe that. Get your movement checked out, get a plan, and let that Physical Therapist be a coach for you.
-Dr. Danny, PT, DPT
Dr. Danny and staff's views on performance improvement, injury prevention and sometimes other random thoughts.