The Impact of Stretching on Youth Development

By Alex C.

Stretching is often looked at by youth as something only runners or gymnasts really do, or as a burden and something that none of them really want to do. However, it is an extremely important exercise for the development of youth in sport, recreation, and leisure for a couple of reasons; but the main one being that it helps prevent them from injuring themselves while participating in their recreation, sport and/or leisurely activity. As we know, youth just want to go out and play and have no real regard for prevention of injuries in that manner, so a lot of the onus for making sure they stretch properly is on the parents and coaches.

According to the Harvard Health Letter, there are three main points that a parent/ coach should go over:

  1. “Why it’s important”; if this is explained to the children, they are more likely to understand why they should be stretching, and how it can help them down the road.
  2. “Where to start”; nobody wants to waste 20 minutes stretching every day, so this explains that depending on the exercise/activity you are doing, you don’t need to stretch every muscle in your body. You should just be stretching the muscles that you are putting emphasis on (i.e., going for a run, you should stretch your legs, and your arms beforehand).
  3. “Proper execution”; teaches you to do the stretches correctly, to hold them for the right amount of time, and to do stretches after your activity as well. This is extremely important, because if you’re not stretching properly, you might as well not be stretching at all.

Stretching is extremely important for people of all ages when participating in sport, leisure and recreation. It decreases your chances of pulling a muscle, promotes blood flow throughout the body, and increases flexibility and range of motion. Promoting blood flow in the body is definitely a positive reinforcement to stretching, but we should be more focused on youth stretching to decrease risk of injury and increase flexibility and range of motion for their development. Adolescence is a time that is spent largely on developing life skills that will help later on down the road; whether it be self-efficacy, confidence, motor skills and so on. And a major way that they learn these life skills can be through sport, leisure and recreation. However, if children get injured while playing in a game of hockey, for example, then it may impact their development.

For example, I remember playing football back in grade 11; playing on this team gave me self-confidence and a sense of purpose, but just into the start of the season I pulled my groin (I didn’t stretch properly, if at all) and had to miss the last three weeks of the season. I was devastated. I no longer felt like I was part of the team and it really effected my self-confidence and made going to school a lot less enjoyable because I didn’t have something to look forward to after school (practice).

Now, this example is only of a short-term injury and I was able to move on once I healed up. But injuries such as pulled muscles don’t always go away so easily and they can stick around for quite some time, and if they do they can make it more challenging for youth to develop these kinds of life skills. And although stretching is not going to completely eliminate the possibility of a child pulling a muscle, but it will greatly decrease the chances of it happening along with increasing their flexibility and range of motion.

References:

Harvard Health letter. (2013). Importance of stretching. (38) no. 11. Harvard Medical School Health Publicaions Group. P. 4.

Hebert, R. D., & Gabriel, M. (2002). Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury. BMJ, 325(7362), 468.

Personal experiences.

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This entry was posted in Coaching, Positive Youth Development, Sport and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Impact of Stretching on Youth Development

  1. Awesome blog post Alex! I think the promotion and encouragement of stretching needs to begin at a young age when children are first being introduced to sport. To engrain stretching into one’s daily routines at a young age can prevent future injuries. Throughout my childhood when I played soccer my team never took stretching very seriously. The coach would ask us to get into a circle and each person would choose a stretch. All of us had the general consensus that it was good for you but no one ever explained the physiological impact it had. It was not until I joined a competitive track team where I was explained the difference between static and dynamic stretching and realized I had been doing it all wrong!

    Many children are taught by coaches various static stretches to partake in ten minutes before the game, little did I know that this could actually hinder performance. Before participating in physical activity it is recommended to participate in dynamic stretching as it stimulates blood flow, increases body temperature/heart rates, improves nerve response and improves muscle/joint range of motion (McMillan, Moore, Hatler & Taylor, 2006). Injury rates have been proven to significantly decline after dynamic stretching is incorporated into team’s warm ups ((McMillan, Moore, Hatler & Taylor, 2006). Therefore, it is critical that coaches and leaders of sport and recreation are well informed and knowledgeable on what stretching can improve their athletes performance. If the number of injuries youth are experiencing can be reduced, more youth will have positive experiences in recreation as well as increased long-term participation in sport that promotes positive youth development.

    References
    Mcmillian, D. J., Moore, J. H., Hatler, B. S., & Taylor, D. C. (2006). Dynamic vs. Static-Stretching Warm Up: The Effect on Power and Agility Performance. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(3), 492. doi:10.1519/18205.1

  2. natgatien says:

    Great post Alex! Stretching is definitely treated as a burden, and is an important exercise for youth development especially in sports, recreation and leisure. Growing up playing sports, I never stretched unless a coach told me to, but now that I am an adult I can understand why stretching is so important for decreasing the chances of pulling a muscle, or promoting blood flow. I liked how you mentioned that stretching can help youth with their range of motion and this so important for them considering they are growing. In lecture we talked about the youth and mental health and how its associated with injuries that is second highest hospital expenditure in Canada. If recreation and sport leaders can promote stretching, we as a society can decrease this statistic, while helping youth with their range of motions for their development.

    Natalie G.

  3. jordanaveryatwin says:

    Great post, You raised a lot of good points. Stretching is probably the most underrated aspect of being an athlete and therefor needs to be reminded and taught by coaches often. I just want to elaborate on your third point:Proper execution”; This is extremely important not just technique wise but in terms of what type of stretching and when to do it.
    The two main stretching types are dynamic and static, Static involves holding a stretch for a period of time (grading your toes, butterfly stretch) while dynamic stretching involve motion based stretches (but kicks, arm swings). A common Issue is the old teaching that static stretching is best always, but new research has showed that before a workout, game, or activity you want the athlete to do dynamic stretches while you want static stretches to be done after the workout,game, or activity. The reasoning behind this is that static stretching before an athletic movement actually increases the risk of injury. As a coach reducing injury is a very important aspect to designing a program for young athletes and I believe stretching is a very important piece of that puzzle.
    Jordan M-A

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