“GENETICALLY WE ARE BEHIND. IN THE LAST CAMPAIGN WE WERE THE SECOND SMALLEST SQUAD BEHIND SPAIN”
These were the words of Gordon Strachan after Scotland failed to qualify for this summer’s world cup finals.
These comments hark back to the days of scouts favouring the biggest kids, remember Jonny?!? While a possible solution of bio-banding – previously discussed in Andy’s above article, combats the natural mismatch in size of children of the same age, we should also be looking at the how we are matching physical preparation in youth athletes to their physical maturity.
While resistance training is an accepted norm in elite academies and senior school sport, are our athletes given the basic foundations necessary to build the strength and fitness they need to reach the highest level of sport, injury free and able to compete?
Understanding stage of development is key – using peak height velocity has strong associations with how well developed children and adolescents are overall (Gamble 2008). Also understanding hormonal maturation will enable the right type of conditioning to be used. For example most muscular gains will come post puberty, so an athlete yet to reach this stage despite being in an age group that typically would have, generally 14+, will not have the same gains as his or her peers.
A lot of focus is put on increasing the size and strength of athletes, so it may be that traditional S&C is only introduced once athletes are seen as physically mature enough to handle a squat rack, usually at about 14. However we could be missing a key stage in athletic development that will have huge benefits in the later stages of athletic careers.
Using the thoughts of Cook (2003) physical development, who describes a pyramid of athletic development, we can see that the foundations of physical development are mobility and stability. These fundamentals can easily be overlooked in a rush to take athletes straight in to the functional movements of squats etc. in order to develop sport specific strength. The risk there is increased injury, rates, caused by athletes not possessing the basic movement patterns and physical literacy to complete these movements and move loads safely.
Stages physical development and maturation stage
While it’s largely accepted that the most strength and size gains will occur in adolescence, often the opportunity for significant motor-neural adaptations in balance and movement patterns essential for injury prevention are missed as most adaptations arise in the pre-adolescence stage (Gamble 2008).
The foundations of performance can begin from as young as 10, whether in schools, or specific sports programmes, giving an excellent basis for mobility and stability. This then transfers in to lower injury rates and an earlier education in physical preparation. And ultimately, produces stronger, fitter athletes.
While the physical demands of some sports, such as swimming and rowing, mean that there are biomechanical advantages of a certain body type, i.e. being tall and thus having long levers, the principle of introducing physical development at a younger age can be used in any sport.
As a parting thought, I think Gordon Strachan maybe needs to cast his eye in the direction of Murrayfield before he makes any more comments about us not making them big enough.
Cook G. Mobility and stability testing. In: Athletic Body in Balance. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2003. pp. 26–38.
Gamble, P. Approaching Physical Preparation for Youth Team-Sports Players
Strength & Conditioning Journal: February 2008 - Volume 30 - Issue 1 - p 29-42