We’ve talked about the value of stretching in previous posts so I’ll assume you’re all believers in the importance for young players to stretch as part of their warmup before practice or games. While it’s true that young muscles are more elastic than those of adults, they still need to be warmed up before put into action. Players also should stretch after a game or practice to help their muscles recover.
But even parents and coaches who understand the importance of stretching before and after athletic performance sometimes have questions about exactly how to do it correctly. I coached one season with a dad who insisted that the kids stretch first, but his idea of proper form was based mostly on how major leaguers stretch on the field before games, which isn’t always the best way, especially for young players. He mostly told them, “Stretch out, guys,” and let them do their own thing, offering just enough advice to do some serious damage.
The kids would be twisted into pretzels, stretching way too far and bouncing up and down as they stretched. I had to put a stop to that – calling the coach aside and letting him know I was concerned the kids would get hurt. He grudgingly turned over the warmups to me.
Not that I was an expert by a long shot. But I knew enough to know that the players needed to run a bit first in order to increase blood flow into the muscles. Then the stretched needed to be controlled, focused on a single move. And the stretch should be smooth and steady, stopping when the muscle resists. When it does, hold the stretch there and take a deep breath, which may release the muscle a little bit and allow a slightly deeper stretch. Yanking a muscle or bouncing in a stretch can cause a pull.
But don’t take my word for it. Here is a short but useful article by a professional physical therapist on the right way to stretch. He emphasizes the importance of holding a stretch long enough for it to really work. He writes, “After 10 seconds of stretching, the nervous system will sense the change in muscle tension and begin to relax. Only then can the true stretch begin.”
So if your players are contorting in crazy positions and rushing through a series of stretches, holding each one for only a few seconds, stop them and show them how to do it correctly. It’s a lesson they’ll remember and will use throughout their athletic careers – and probably long after.