As farms and working outside fade away in our modern culture, what do we do to ensure the proper development of our future generations? My answer would be a strength and conditioning program. Many of the injuries we have these days are a result of kids not having a baseline of work before playing sports. We have kids in all these activities now, but there is no foundation of strength built before they play. They generally play one sport and hope they can excel in that sport to earn recognition as a high school star, earn a college scholarship or if they are fortunate, make it as a pro. They spend all their time on skill and not enough time on the body supporting that skill set.

T he Mayo Clinic asked the question “is strength training effective for kids?”  Their answer: “You bet!”.  “Done properly, strength training offers many benefits to young athletes.”  They state that strength training will put them on a lifetime path to better health and fitness. The Mayo staff says “light resistance and controlled movements are best, with a huge emphasis on proper technique and safety.” They go on to say, “that done properly, strength training will increase your child’s muscle strength and endurance, help protect muscles and joints from sports related injuries, improve your child’s performance in dancing, skating, and sports.”  Their research reveals, “That it is not just for athletes because it will strengthen your child’s bones, help promote healthy blood pressure, healthy cholesterol levels, maintain a healthy weight and improve a child’s confidence and self-esteem.”  Lastly the Mayo staff concludes, “that during childhood as early as 7 or 8, kids improve their body awareness, control and balance through active play and strength training can enhance that development.”

The first thing I teach whether it be my son or daughter's youth teams or our freshmen football team starting their “Iron Disciple Program”, is the simple progression of: 1. Stance, 2. Alignment, 3. Start, and  4. Assignment. I had a wise old coach at Clemson who shared this concept and it is a simple concept that will teach young kids how to progress. I teach it to all the sports teams I have worked with. Most sports like lifting, start in the power position. I make all our kids repeat the progression to me so they will consciously make an effort to start well.

“Stance. Alignment. Start. Assignment”
Stance:   How do I get into a good stance? I teach the power position. The young athlete will get their feet hip width apart, feet are under the hips or slightly outside and they must have good knee bend.  Not too deep, but about half way between quarter and ninety degree bend and they have their hips back. They have their head up, back flat, core set.  Before performing any lift, I teach my guys to set their core. This is done by taking a deep breath and contracting the anterior and posterior core muscles.  

Alignment:  This coincides with stance in which we have our feet hip width or slightly outside. I want shoulders, hips, knees and toes lined up pointing north and south. This will give the athlete the best chance for success whether they are moving linearly, laterally, vertically or downward.  

Start:  After we have them in a great stance and we have perfect alignment, they are ready to take the first action movement. If that is a power clean, then have them keep that stance and alignment set and work on vertical shin angles. This is done, so their start produces force through the heels and extends through the toes. If it is a squat, they are set and aligned to perform an effective squat. If it is a bench press, we lay them on the bench, feet are still pulled back under the hips, and it becomes a total body lift with five points of pressure:  1. Feet pressure, 2. Butt on bench pressure, 3. Upper back on the bench pressure, 4. Head on the bench pressure and 5. Grip placement on the bar pressure. If it is a plyometric movement, we put them in the same power stance and alignment with hips back. If we are doing starts and our hand is on the ground, we stagger the stance aligned with hand placement on the ground. If the right hand is down, then the right foot is back. If the left hand is down, the left foot is back. But we emphasize the same downward force on both feet no matter what hand is down.

Assignment:  For the power clean, what is our assignment? To get the weight off the ground and in a catch position safely and effectively. The squat is to get to down to parallel and stand back up with the weight. The bench press is to take weight from rack to chest and back to the rack safely and effectively. A great resource to use to determine if you are doing the lifts safely and effectively is through the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Associations (CSCCa) website.  The web address is www.cscca.org. Click on resources and Coach Greg Werner does an excellent job outlining the primary and secondary purposes of the lift, starting procedures, equipment set up, and assignment of the lift.  

In conclusion, I enjoy coaching my kid’s sports teams.  These include basketball, baseball, football, and soccer. My daughter has also participated in dance and gymnastics, while my son has participated in martial arts. The thing that is always true in all of these, is having the capability to bend, balance, move, and hold a stable position. As well as discipline, accountability, diligence, and hard work.  I enjoy when we gravitate to the garage as a family and I get to teach them how to squat, dead lift, flex bar jammer, and bench press. My wife usually comes as well and we turn it into a family affair. This allows us to make memories together. These baby steps of work will payoff strong in the years to come. 

Thanks for reading! Stick around for the next edition of Coaches Corner every other Wednesday.
About  The Author 
David Abernethy is currently the assistant athletic director of strength training & conditioning at Furman Unversity. He is a certified member of the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the National Association of Speed and Explosion, and is recognized by the American Fitness Professionals Association as a Certified Sports Nutrition Consultant.  Abernethy is married to the former Kelli Iddings of Denver, N.C., and the couple has a daughter, Madilyn, and a son, Brooks David.
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