By: Lucas Palker, 2006/2007 Boys Trainer

Physical Fitness In Youth Sports

As we all know, physical fitness comes with numerous benefits. This is especially important when it comes to the physical fitness of our youth who are playing competitive sports. There are cognitive, emotional, and physical benefits that all come along with physical fitness and sports, but for today, let’s focus on the physical.

I’ll start with what I consider to be the most important, injury prevention. Sports demand a lot from our bodies and an important aspect in any fitness regimen is preparing our bodies to handle that demand. Being physically fit not only allows you to play harder, faster, and stronger, but it also allows you to play longer and safer too. In fact, studies have shown that there is a correlation between resistance training at young ages and increased bone density.

Just about every non-contact injury (twisted ankle, torn ACL, strains/sprains) happens due to that part of your body not being able to handle the stress or load that you’re putting on it and typically occurs farther into games when we are most tired. So another huge aspect of physical fitness is preparing our bodies to adjust to awkward or stressful positions especially when we’re tired (often referred to as functional exercise/fitness).

As I briefly mentioned above, and what many would consider the most obvious, is physical fitness’ effect on our ability to play harder, faster, and stronger. It should come as no surprise that if you are in shape, you will perform at a higher level for a longer period of time, putting you at a great advantage over your opponent. I’m sure we’ve all noticed that when we’re tired we tend to make more mistakes. This doesn’t need much explanation so I’ll leave you with an example; have you ever played against a team that you know you are better than technically or tactically, but they’re faster, stronger and have endless endurance? You may squeak out a win, but the fact that they’re more physically fit has a frustrating effect on the over result or flow of the game. That is the power of physical fitness.

I think it is important to mention, especially during times like these, that sports and physical fitness have an extremely beneficial effect on our immune systems and overall health. From improving our cardiovascular and lymphatic systems’ health and function, to simply increasing blood flow to allow oxygen to be better spread throughout the body. The younger you start, the greater and quicker you will see such benefits.

While the above are all amazing benefits, you can over do it, and part of being physically fit is proper recovery. Too much exercise over-stresses your adrenal glands and nervous system (granted this takes a lot of intense exercise). If you’re not giving yourself adequate rest (especially sleep), not stretching properly and not getting enough nutritious food, then your body cannot recover properly and could lead to unwanted results. So it is just as important to recover as well as train, a fact that I think tends to get forgotten by many people.

So to sum everything up: physical fitness is crucial to preventing injury on the soccer field, improving performance both physically and technically, and improving the immune system along with many other vital body systems. Just a little bit of physical training most days of the week will set you up for lots of success on the soccer field!

But wait there’s more…

Since we’re all stuck inside, it can be helpful and beneficial to have a small space set up as an in-home “gym”. While this sounds like something tough or stressful to do, it can be very easy and even fun to make! Here is a picture of coach Lucas Palker’s at home gym set up.

As Baloo would say, here are the “bear necessities”: A mat (for comfort), A small space, Disinfecting materials (especially now), Your body. That’s it! Bodyweight exercises are really all you “need” and most exercises can be done in the space a gym/yoga mat takes up.

If you’d like to make it more fun: A gallon jug of liquid (approximately 8 lbs) to be your kettle bell or barbell. A case of water (weight varies) can be your dumbbells.  A sturdy chair for elevated pushups, chair dips, steps ups, squats, etc. A backpack (preferably an NLSA one) to put books in and increase weight (carefully).

These are just a few examples, the possibilities are endless so have fun and get creative with this!

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