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Nearly every child that finishes the fifth grade could and should take part in some form of strength training program. Whether they enjoy time outside, playing football, dancing, or even reading books, children can reap the benefits of weight training. To name a few, children as young as 7 or 8 years old will see improvements in their strength, bone density, balance, personal self-esteem, and the list goes on.1 The stigma that surrounds strength training for adolescents, even in their teen years, has evolved from the ideas that lifting weights or performing functional exercise causes injury, stunts growth, reduces performance, and/or reduces flexibility; none of which are true unless unnecessary or dangerous methods are used in the training of the adolescent child. Rather, several health care groups such as The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, agree that a supervised strength training program which follows the recommended guidelines is safe and effective for children.1 Nowadays, we see similar concerns in parents, coaches, and athletes about the athlete weight training while they are in-season because the strength training will mess up their throw or their shot. They may even disregard a weight training aspect of their preparation due to the fact they think their dancer, gymnast, or performer will bulk up and lose their current state of aesthetic; which is totally avoidable.2
As athletic trainers, we have a responsibility and an opportunity to educate our communities on the necessity of strength training with all types of student-athletes, during every stage of their high school careers. Obviously, this is no easy task, though it is necessary, so I have prepared a 5-step process towards changing the mindsets of those concerned with their child or athlete participating in strength training.
- Start Small – Before you go off and gather the troops to sit down and listen to your lecture on why their child should be lifting, talk to some concerned individuals one-on-one. This will give you a chance to understand the more common misconceptions on the concept, so you can better prepare your reasoning for recommending strength training.
- Listen – If you don’t show others that you are willing to listen to them, why should they listen to you? If a parent or athlete are kicking back against the idea of lifting, it’s because they are worried and that’s okay!! They have every reason to be worried because all that they know is what they heard and it’s their job to take precaution. They want what’s best. So, hear them out. If you want some additional help with learning how to actually listen (because truth is, most athletic trainers suck at listening but excel at spitting out knowledge) click here.
- Deliver – Once you understand the individuals’ main concerns, address those first. This is not your opportunity to school them with your profound and prepared knowledge on the subject. Instead, it’s your chance to make a difference in a developing, and hopeful child’s life, so take it seriously. Offer an understanding for their worries and present why their beliefs are not the case, though they are not alone in their thought process. When you talk about the potential benefits, use factual information and don’t stretch the truth. Cite the information you are talking about simply explaining the researchers that facilitated the study you are using to back your claims.
- Provide Guidance – Direct the individual towards educational sites and resources that they will be able to digest. Don’t just shoot them an email with links to your trusty articles on a foreign database that most of our clients have never seen. A good start would be to begin their search at a familiar, but trustworthy website such as the Mayo Clinic.
- Follow Up – Your journey towards educating your community shouldn’t stop with just one or two conversations on the subject. Use the details you have gathered from talking to individuals and develop a presentation, driven by common concerns and misconceptions in your community, which can be presented to parents and coaches at a parent meeting.
Outside of the unease that surrounds adolescent strength training, multi-sport athletes who don’t lift because they are “in-season” miss out on the developmental and performance enhancing benefits of strength training as well. Click Here to read my letter to parents, coaches, and athletes about this topic.
Athletic Trainers have too much potential to influence change to just sit idly by. Don’t let misconceptions about weight training fester in your community. Take action and EDUCATE!
- Dahab KS, McCambridge TM. Strength Training in Children and Adolescents: Raising the Bar for Young Athletes? Sports Health. 2009;1(3):223-226. doi:10.1177/1941738109334215.
- Angioi M, Metsios GS, Twitchett E, Koutedakis Y, Wyon M. Association between selected physical fitness parameters and aesthetic competence in contemporary dancers. J Dance Med Sci. 2009;13(4):115-123