One of the wonders of childhood is how running, jumping and spinning seems effortless, almost magical. We remember the ease from our youth and marvel as our kids go from zero to 60 like superheroes.
Even so, warming up before the big game is as important for kids as adults—maybe more so.
“Yes, kids are flexible and can bounce back faster than adults,” says Erin MacLean, an athletic therapist in Burlington, Ontario, who coaches her 8-year-old daughter’s rep hockey team. “But young athletes are growing fast and so their muscles are stretching, and then we’re asking their muscles to work hard on top of that.”
Nothing but benefits
Warming up is important because cold muscles are more prone to injury. Warm up exercises get your muscles moving safely, in a steady build-up of intensity before the main sport or activity. Moving muscles lead to warmer muscles and thus muscles with greater elasticity. Warming up also improves performance by bringing children’s nervous systems into a heightened state (aka. getting the necessary nerves firing properly), which helps the body move with increased speed and efficiency right from the get go. As well, pre-game rituals get children psyched up for the upcoming game, and “the warm-up routine helps team spirit and bonding,” MacLean says.
Making it fun
But how do you get kids to warm up? Due to kids’ short attention spans and eagerness to get right to the game, often kids don’t want to do it. The key is bringing some fun to it:
- Get the kids to lead: Have a different child lead the warm up routine each time, rotating through all the teammates. Have the kids count along to exercises and even add chanting and singing.
- Turn up the volume: Bring a boom box and play songs. Not only is it fun, but the beat helps keep the children focused and organized. “It’s all about dancing for the kids,” MacLean says. “We do the ‘Whip/Nae Nae’. And the kids do warm up movements specific for hockey.”
- Don’t over-do it: It doesn’t take much. Just a few minutes is best because you don’t want the kids to tire out or overheat before the game has even started. “We do two or three songs, and that gets the blood flowing and the muscles warm,” MacLean says.
- A game before the game: Many classic games that we all grew up playing can be incorporated into a warm up routine. The right game depends on the age of the kids, the temperature and the sport.
The Right Moves
Different sports with different functional movements call for different warm up exercises. For example, during a hockey game, players often reach for the puck, so reaching across the body is a good movement for upper body rotation. There is a lot of skating, of course, so lunges, squats, marching on the spot and long strides are a good idea for limbering up the legs. “You look at the actions that the kids do in a given sport and come up with a fun movement that mimics that,” MacLean says.
While warm up exercises and practice for a specific sport is essential, MacLean cautions that too much of the same movements can be a bad thing.
“When kids are training for a specific sport, if they only ever do that sport – say, if they only do power skating for hockey – they can eventually overdo it, which results in repetitive strain injury,” she says. “That’s why cross training is key. You don’t always need to be on the ice to train for hockey.”
Erin MacLean is a Certified Athletic Therapist and owner of The Elliott Sports Medicine Clinic in Burlington, Ontario. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Kinesiology from the University of Western Ontario and graduated with honours from the Sports Injury Management program at Sheridan College. She has served as an athletic therapist for many teams, including Guelph University's men's hockey team, the Hamilton Tiger Cats Football Club, and the Columbus Landsharks of the National Lacrosse League.