Watch this video of Tommy Mooney Senior Strength & Conditioning Coach at SSC Sports Medicine discussing ‘How to protect our young athletes in modern sport’.
This video was recorded as part of SSC public information meeting as part of its ‘Fit for life series’ focusing on ‘How to stay healthy & injury free – From youth sport to the ageing athlete’.
Tommy Mooney, Senior Strength & Conditioning Coach at SSC Sports Medicine.
“How to protect our young athletes in modern sport”
Thank you for taking the time out of your evening to watch this SSC series. My name is Tommy Mooney, and I am a Senior Strength and Conditioning Coach at Sports Medicine. Alongside my role here at the clinic, I work with a host of different athletes of all different ages from a multitude of different sports, including team sports, individual sports and tracking field etc., ranging in ages from 6 years old to 80 years young.
My presentation today is going to be about how we can protect our young athletes in modern sport. I am going to suggest a three prone model for optimum health and development. First and foremost, we are going to talk about the importance of multi-sport and using different sports to enhance our movement vocabulary. The more movements we learn, the more skills we can accomplish and showcase in our sport. I am then going to talk about training load and finding the balance between rest and training, and then thirdly, we will talk about strength and conditioning.
First, I would like to present a story to you. On the screen, we have two kids here, both 7-8 years old. Jack on the right here is a tennis player, adamant he is going to become the next big thing in tennis as well as his parents believe he is going to be a tennis player. Jacks life revolves around training tennis and getting as good training as possible. Jill, here on the left-hand side, plays a multitude of sports such as GAA, gymnastics, tennis and athletics outside of her busy social schedule. Jill wants to become a gymnast or an influencer when she is older. My question for you is, which child do you think will have a longer and more successful sporting career? Ultimately we can’t pick one, and we never know as many childhood progeny’s like Tiger Woods and Lionel Messi has gone on to grow from their childhood success, but despite that, we often would suggest that having a multitude of sport and playing many different sports is typically the optimum way to develop a broad range of skills and capabilities that can then lead on to your final sport at the end of your career or as you age.
Another benefit of multiple sports is that children are going to learn multiple different skills that are going to help burnout and increase participation for longer. It can also reduce the risk of injury, improve cognitive skills and decision making, is typically more enjoyable, offers breaks different in-between sports. We also know sports diversification leads to a long sporting career.
Forgetting about sport for a minute, we know that children nowadays are typically slower compared to children 30 years ago. They are weaker when compared they are less physically literate and less physically active. Introducing children who may not be playing sport to physical activities like strength and conditioning is going to be really important to know that less than 5 hours a week of physical activity can increase the risk of injury. Obviously, there is a bell-shaped curve that we know if we do too much training, that can also be a risk factor; I think this became much more clear of the back of covid where we saw an extended period of not training followed by a spike or increase of training in our training load, this is something we associate with an increased risk on injury.
What are strength and conditioning? The bottom left is an example of what it doesn’t look like as it is obviously too heavy and too young. Moving on then to the other pictures, we have multiple different movements such as crawling, jumping, landing, moving, lifting and squatting in an environment that is safe and fun, but also challenging and then as they get older, you can see the exercise progress and increase in load and make it more challenging.
Obviously, there are concerns and misconceptions around strength and conditioning. It is important to know that strength and conditioning is not only gym-based. It is speed & agility based, muscular endurance can also be enhanced by this, but we won’t talk about too much of these particular components today. We already talked about how it can have an improvement in our movement skills, balance and flexibility. As mentioned, one of the concerns typically is that it is dangerous, but it is important to know that sports, in general, is more dangerous. This video on the screen is an example of such. So we know sport itself is dangerous, so the better we can condition and prepare our young athletes for this, the safer they may be when they do take the field.
Some other misconceptions are around stunts in growth. This extends from anecdotal data that weight lifters are small and stocky; therefore, weight lifting must stunt their growth. This is similar to people saying that playing basketball will make me taller because all-athlete basketball players are tall; therefore, playing basketball will increase my height, this obviously isn’t the case. We spoke about the danger. Other misconceptions can be that it makes you slower. This isn’t true proper strength and conditioning can help you increase speed rather than slow it down. Building big muscles is highly unlikely in youth athletes as we don’t have the hormonal profile that is going to allow for this; it typically takes years of training to do so. Then lastly, growth plate injuries are more likely to occur in jumping or landing and field sport as opposed to our gym-based sport. There has been a host of research to back this up that weight training in youth is safe, that long term responses to it are positive.
This table here shows the incidence of injury in youth sports, so it’s looking at some popular field sports such as rugby, soccer and GAA, it is looking at injury incidences over 100 hours of match play. What we can see on the table is that incidence of injury in these field sports are considerably greater than our weight lifting activity. By weightlifting, we are referring to the sport of Olympic weightlifting. We see two studies here boys and girls as young as seven had 0 incidences of injury over one and two years. This study here where there was one injury happened with a weight plate falling on the foot, not even the sport itself but rather maybe from not paying attention during the down period within the activity—emphasising the safety of these when done properly. Injuries in these activities are typically a result of poor technique, excessive loading, training whilst fatigued and a lack of qualified supervision. This is an important point to note that we need to make the people who are organising and running these sessions are qualified. I’m sure there are a host of coaches and parents on the call here who work with these young age ranges. I know how difficult It can be to keep them engaged and supervised, so I have a lot of respect for those working with these young athletes and young groups, but it is important that whoever is leading these strength and conditioning sessions is appropriately qualified.
|The benefits then of strength and condition, it can help increase our strength & power, bone strength & density, balance & coordination, speed & agility, reduce injury risk, enhance our sports performance and our outlook on physical activity.|
On the screen is another example of time-loss injuries in elite soccer academies, so this is Arsenal; prior to 2013 and Des Ryan and his team taking over, they had quite a high incidence of injury. After 2013 when they implemented a world-class strength and conditioning program, they significantly reduced the number of injuries over the next couple of seasons. Obviously, we can’t completely irradiate injury as we already mentioned; sport itself is already injurious and particularly risky, but we can do with good strength and conditioning, we can decrease those numbers.
When can we start? How young is too young? This study by Myer, Lloyd, Brent & Faigenbaum showcased that those who started in pre-adolescence achieved a greater level of motor capacity in adults in comparison to those who only started in adolescence, who only practised sport and those who did no sports.
I am going to go through the stages of strength training in more detail. Stages one and two are going to be largely based around bodyweight training and mastering the basic exercises and movement patterns, progressing into maybe some soft resistance things like med ball & sandbag the progressing onto your barbell training. This is similar to our power progression, and it is important to note that strength underpins power; although both are important, utilising some power exercises can help ensure that we the maximal transfer across from our strength training. Okay, again, similar here were interested in jumps, hops and throws, then gradually introducing then some light resistance before we consider moving on to more weighted or loaded progression.
When do we progress from bodyweight to barbell training? When we have good control over our own body and limbs. Good position & patterns for the six major bodyweight movements. So, for example, these six movements may look like this. This is an example from a youth scoring table, so when you can achieve 18 points in each of the exercise categories, that’s a sign you have mastered or you are competent with your own body weight and are ready to progress on to loaded variation. So, for example, here we get points relative to the number of repetitions that you do, the points add up over the different tests and that allows us to achieve our 18 points; again, those scores may be different for our male youth athletes.
Advice and summaries for parents, I would encourage everyone to try and get their children engaged in PE; that way they’re going to see a multitude of different sports and skills, to get out and play with their friends, to incorporate at least one rest day a week, try and play different sports in the off-season, communicate across the different sports they do, try to reduce training load during a growth spurt,
Introduce resistance training under supervision and to make sure have fun as the more enjoyable and engaging we make sport the longer we participate and have more benefits in the long term. Thank you for listening.
How can a 17-year-old plan for post-surgery for a ruptured ACL operation? What strength and conditioning can be done during his rehab?
The consultant will have clear guidelines to give you as it depends on what stage you are in, such as in the early stages of post-op you are probably not going to be doing as much as well as it depends on where they’re taking the graph from. In reality, you want to try and keep the knee as calm and happy as possible, so not doing anything that is going to aggravate the knee. Do what you can. The key thing is not to aggravate the knee in the process.
If players are playing a lot of sport, how can you manage them running into over-training and burnout injury?
That’s a tough one; it can be challenging. The most important thing is the player and coaches relationship, make those communications channels as open as possible, look at the link between sports and monitor that. The first important thing is communication, and then the second is asking the athlete how do you feel?
During periods of a growth spurt, that’s maybe when you want to reel in training a little bit and reduce the training load a little bit, that maybe when you can focus on strength and conditioning activities or not as much heavy load on the pitch. There are also other things you can do in terms of monitoring training, such as watching the minutes you spend on the pitch, how many training hours you are doing in a week and just making sure that it isn’t spiking at certain points a year. It is important to make sure there are periods of the week/month where there are low periods of training.
It is hard to say; you need to consider the individual case, how many sports are we talking about, do the two sports cross over, are they quite different etc. At about 18 years is when you’re going to start to specialise in developing special skills in that sport and dedicating as much time as possible to that sport to optimise your performance. It is also important to ensure they’re not doing too much.
Yes, absolutely. We spoke about the importance of seeking professional guidance, and that’s where maybe touching base on it may be a local S&C coach or you can come into the clinic here that is going to be beneficial, rather than getting a generic program you would probably want something a little more specific so it is tailored to the individual, to their training needs, their sport and then to their injury risk if there is one as well.