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:
- “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.
- “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).
- “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.
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.