Let us think back to childhood.
What were the most invigorating and enthralling memories that bring on nostalgia?
I remember feeling the most carefree and in my element when I was playing dodgeball, capture the flag, hide and seek, or tag. For others, maybe it was frolicking around the playground, climbing monkey bars or trees, or playing hopscotch on the driveway. Whatever the favorite activity, childhood involved deliberate play that breathed life into us.
Funny enough, a lot of these childhood games incorporated fundamental movement skills that youth athletes need to master if they hope to reach their full potential both now and in the future. They incorporated components of balance, coordination, posture, strength, spatial awareness and even anaerobic and aerobic conditioning.
I want to consider this a call to action for strength and conditioning coaches, PE teachers or anyone involved with youth sports. Let's have our kids execute fundamental movement skills in a practice or gym setting. Movement sets kids up for improved athleticism, safe physical development and increased mental focus. Without the foundation these fundamental movement skills provide, a youth athlete will never come close to reaching their full potential.
With that in mind, here are five fundamental movements all youth athletes should strive to master.
We were all professional crawlers as babies, but somewhere along the way, we lost this fundamental skill. Crawling should be a staple of every youth athlete's program because it reinforces core stability, reflexive strength, upper-body strength, shoulder stability, coordination and hip control. Like walking and sprinting, crawling is an alternating reciprocal motion. If you can't crawl correctly, odds are you'll struggle with those two actions, too.
It's easy to teach and execute the crawling movement pattern using fun games. Simply telling kids to crawl around can be mundane, so making a game out of it is actually the best way to reinforce this pattern. One example of such a game includes placing a cone on the athlete's back and making it a competition to see who can crawl the longest without the cone falling. It's simple, but the competition makes it fun.
To progress such a game, you can have the kids climb under, around or through different obstacles, all while striving to keep that cone on their back.
Ask any kid what they want to improve most in terms of their athleticism and most will say they want to be faster. The solution? Tell them to start jumping.
Jumping serves as the basis for power and speed development due to the rapid concentric to eccentric muscle actions (SSC) and fast twitch muscle recruitment it requires. One method I like to use to teach quick jumping for speed development is to snap my fingers and have kids jump to the rhythm of my snaps. As I gradually decrease the time between snaps, the kids must work to minimize their ground contact time.
Another drill I like is multi-planar jumping, which can be seen in the above video. That video also showcases the landing component of jumping, which is critical for reducing chance of injury. Teaching kids to sink their hips and activate their posterior chain as well as keeping their ankles strong can aid in achieving proper landing mechanics.
Jumping has many benefits on both performance and injury prevention. To ignore it would be ignoring an essential movement that the athlete will benefit from throughout their entire athletic career.
Tumbling, somersaulting or log rolling down hills were all childhood movements that were playful and fun. Little did we know, they also improved reflexive strength, spatial awareness, spinal stabilization and functional core strength.
The above rolling drill hammers activation of the core and gets kids into proper squat positioning. This is more of a "bottoms up" approach, which I have found better for teaching stability in the core and shoulders and mobility through the hips.
Rolling can be an excellent warm-up, or a workout progressed with load. And usually, kids have fun with it and enjoy the carefree nature it brings to their workout.
4. The Athletic Stance
This may not be a "movement" in the same sense the previous entries are, but if a kid cannot get into an athletic stance, their agility, strength, balance and posture will suffer. The simple act of being able to get into an athletic stance requires a decent amount of functional athleticism. The athletic stance is being able to sink the hips back while maintaining good posture. The knees will be slightly bent, with more load placed on the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings).
The athletic stance is so magical because it is a prerequisite for many sport-specific and strength movements. If kids can get into this position with ease, they will be able to change direction and react quicker, as well as be able to learn the Deadlift, Good Morning, and any hip hinge movement easier. That means more explosive and resilient athletes.
Not many kids can skip nowadays. Whenever I get a group together for their first session, I am in awe of the ipsilateral and awkward movement patterns going on. Looking back to gym class during childhood, we skipped, and we skipped a lot.
As coaches, it is our job to dose the things youth athletes are not getting enough of in the rest of their daily life. And while skipping may sound trivial, it is a fun way to teach kids contralateral coordination. In fact, I would argue skipping serves as a basis for maximal speed running. There is high knee drive (hip flexion), trunk stability (anterior core activation), single-leg balance (ankle dorsiflexion), and proper arm mechanics (simultaneous contralateral action with legs). That's a lot of good stuff packed into one movement.
Naming just five fundamental movements for kids was a challenge, but I felt these to be the most essential. They seem simple at first glance, but it takes some depth and patience to truly master them. As long as kids are moving in a variety of ways that challenge their balance, strength, coordination, posture, and spatial awareness, we are doing our jobs. By inspiring this sort of movement in our practices and training sessions, we set our youth athletes on a path towards a bright and healthy future.
Photo Credit: FatCamera/iStock, filmstudio/iStock, BraunS/iStock