Teaching the Basics of Movement – The Key to Youth Fitness
In this article, youth training expert Brian Grasso discusses how teaching the basics of movement are the key to youth fitness.
In the initial phases of training with a young athlete (technically referred to as General Preparatory or GPP), the undeniable key and focus (outside of fun!) should be aptitude development. This aptitude should transcend to both movement-based skills in their basic elements (balance, jumping, throwing, linear and lateral motion progressions, etc.) as well as strength-based exercises. I have always firmly believed that basic squatting techniques, for example (along with squatting variations and unilateral efforts), should be introduced into the training sessions of young athletes.
That being said, how does one begin the process of teaching movement habits?
When working with truly young athletes (6 – 7 years old), you need to adopt a progression template within which to work. No template can ever be applied to 100% of your athletes 100% of the time – that is the beauty of coaching; understanding what to apply, when, and for how long (i.e., knowing when to progress or regress on an individual basis). Trust me when I say that no system is foolproof and that any strength coach or trainer who claims to “have all the answers” is completely full of crap.
After 10 years of working with young athletes, I have reached one undeniable conclusion: the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know and the more I want to change my methodologies.
Having said that, these are the first three progressions I use in teaching a movement habit:
Skill: Lateral Deceleration
First, break key points down into skill sets that are easy to remember so that kids can recite them both to you and to themselves (this makes teaching and cuing much simpler). I have four points I want my athletes to learn/know/commit to memory with respect to lateral deceleration:
- Bend your knees and drop your hips
- Be on a flat foot or slightly on the ball of the foot
- The toe/foot of the decelerating leg should be square to the angle of the body (i.e., not out)
- The foot placement should be outside the box (the “box” is a reference to an invisible line drawn from the shoulder to the floor. Any placement outside of that line is good; within or too close to the line will result in a poor deceleration and potential injury).
Have the kids understand each of these items individually and then in conjunction with each other.
These represent the first three of my progressive steps:
- Repeat Statically – have the athletes assume an athletic position or stance. From here, they will “hit” the decelerating position upon command. Be patient with this step and make sure all your athletes are comfortable and competent with the motion. Add fun to this by calling out different legs unpredictably.
- Repeat Dynamically – when you feel your athletes are ready, have them perform one or two moderately paced side shuffles prior to “hitting” the decelerating position. The side shuffles should be slow and easy. At this point, you will begin to ascertain if further teaching is necessary (it likely will be). With the additional movement prior to the deceleration, a common mistake you will see is athletes not planting their foot outside of the box far enough. This results in a poor alignment and a less than satisfactory deceleration (even at these slow speeds). My colleague, Lee Taft, calls this a shoulder sway (because the shoulders lean toward the decelerating leg rather than sitting back in a “braking” position). I love this term and it reflects what the actual concern looks like.
- Repeat Randomly – Now that the athletes are comfortable with the motion, create games and situations within which they react to a particular signal and move (unpredictably) different directions. On your “point” for example, the athlete will take one or two moderately paced side shuffles and then “hit” a deceleration. Have them hold the position so that both you and them can ascertain what is right and wrong with their posture.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Brian Grasso for the above article.