Spring is approaching, and parents and young athletes may be digging out last season’s uniforms ready for preseason training. Shoes, helmets, and gloves are taken from the closet, dusted, and cleaned after a winter of disuse. Cries of, ‘Mom, it doesn’t fit me anymore,’ may be heard around the suburbs. Parents reach into their wallets and buy new items so that their child is prepared.
What about the young athlete who has sat indoors at a desk, home-learning, or in school with restricted movement and no organized activities over the last few months? Their bodies will be unaccustomed to the vigorous activities and competition that come with spring training. They need to shake off their own dust and prepare to reduce the chance of injury and improve their chance of selection.
I recommend a gradual build-up of activity so that the young body can adapt and get stronger in a safe manner. This is called progression. The following actions can be done in the back yard, the local park, or on a quiet street with minimal equipment.
The first part is to do big movements to get the heart and lungs working and blood circulating around the major muscles.
Over 20 yards, do a selection of the following for 2 minutes:
- Skip forwards, skip backward.
- Skip as fast as you can (small steps), then as high as you can.
- Grapevine normally, then with tiny steps, then with big steps covering the 20 yards in as few steps as possible.
- Side shuffle without feet crossing. Add arms down to the floor and then up to the sky.
- Run forwards, backpedal backward.
The next part is to get your hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, and spine moving through greater ranges with control.
Do 1 set of each exercise, pause for rest if you need, until accustomed to the new movement.
Lunges: Step forward and lower the rear knee until it nearly touches the floor. Step backward and do the same. Step sideways, twice your hip width, keeping both feet facing the front (lunge to the right, and your right knee will bend, the left leg will remain straight).
- Repeat the above sequence but this time, touch one hand on the floor at the end of your lunge. Then repeat with the other hand, then both hands.
- Repeat the lunges but at the end put both hands on the floor and lower your head towards the ground. When ready, you can touch either your ear or your nose on the floor. This improves your upper body strength and control as well as mobility.
Down and up dogs:
- Start in a push-up position and raise your butt into the air as high as possible.
- Hold for a second and then lower your hips to the floor, keeping your arms straight.
- Take deep breaths as you do this 5-10 times.
- Stand on one leg, lift the other leg up to the front until it is a horizontal pause, and lower with control. Repeat on the other leg. Do the same thing with your leg to the side and then behind. 5 times each leg. This improves balance and hip strength.
Spring into action: Once you are warm and mobile, you can start to do faster actions like jumping, hopping, and sprinting. Little and often is best so that you are fresh. Five times each is enough for the jumps.
Broad jumps: Jump as far forward as you can and land on both feet with knees and hips bent to cushion the landing.
Tuck jumps: Jump up and bring your knees to your chest. A common mistake is to kick your feet behind you.
- 1/2 turn jumps: Jump and turn to face behind you. An easier version is to do a 1/4 turn.
Hops: Hop forward as quickly as you can over 10 yards. Come back on the other leg.
Crouch start sprint:
- Crouch down with one hand on the floor (a 3-point start) and sprint for 10 yards.
- Walk back and repeat with the other leg forward.
- Do six of these and then rest.
- Kick or catch a ball for a few minutes and then repeat the sprints.
- Try to cover the 10 yards as fast as you can.
Doing a 15-minute workout, three times a week, between now and spring training will help your athlete emerge from hibernation. If they start slowly and build up, they will improve physically and be better prepared for the sport’s rigors.