While genetics determine an athlete’s potential, nurturing innate abilities in the correct sequence determines how closely the athlete reaches peak potential.
For long-term development, follow the First-Things-First theory.
In addition to training athletes in the weight room and on the field, I consult with parents, coaches, and athletes about strategies to prevent injuries. I get questions almost weekly with concerns about young pitchers experiencing arm injuries and/or pain. It’s common for parents and coaches to ask for exercises to improve arm strength and flexibility. While focusing on the throwing arm seems logical, pitching injuries have more to do with overuse, along with deficits in trunk and lower body strength and mobility.
Studies indicate, and parents can verify, that the creativity of free play—without interference from adults—helps kids learn leadership skills, conflict resolution, and problem solving. And for developing motor skills, core strength, agility, balance, and coordination, free play is essential.
A proper warm-up is crucial to improving performance and decreasing the risk for injury. Just as a strength and conditioning program should be functional—mimic movements of sports—so should a warm-up.
Many experts believe and studies confirm that today’s culture of early sports specialization with an emphasis on year-round structured training is stunting the mental and physical development of youth. Until about age 12, general athleticism—nurtured with free play and multiple sports—should be prioritized over sport-specific skills. Even after the age of 12, free play—without interference from adults—remains important.