Children's Hospital Colorado

The Importance of Strength and Conditioning in Youth Sports

A teenager does strength and conditioning at Children's Colorado.

As a sports medicine physical therapist with Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Sports Medicine Center, Shane Noffsinger, PT, helps a lot of young athletes recover from injury. And often, he says, the cause of an athlete’s injury is a lack of good movement patterns and neuromuscular control.

This doesn’t mean an athlete isn’t good at their sport. But the way they’re moving, likely the way they’ve been moving for years, has put them at greater risk for injury. That’s why it’s important to teach good movement, or good strength and conditioning techniques, from a young age for sport preparation.

“I think the key is our ability to change the mindset on how we start to get kids active,” says Noffsinger. “We need to focus on teaching young kids how to move for a variety of different sports before they actually start playing them. It’s a gradual and systematic way of allowing them to explore and practice good movement so they can apply it later.”

Why good movement matters and how to incorporate it

Sports are built on a series of specialized movements that require a solid strength and conditioning foundation, such as good control and balance. Continued work on these techniques at a more advanced level has even been linked to improved sports performance.

Athletes who miss out on essential youth sports conditioning have an increased risk of injury. For instance, Noffsinger says he often sees injuries caused by uncontrolled movement in the hip and torso when an athlete needs to quickly change directions. And if a particular movement pattern is off on one side of the body and that’s what contributed to, say, a leg injury, the non-injured leg is usually at just as much risk. This is because it’s likely that the athlete is performing the same incorrect pattern no matter how they’re moving — right or left, up or down.

It all comes back to what athletes learn at a young age. Noffsinger recommends making these concepts fun and interesting for kids and getting creative with how you do it.

“Kids love to bear crawl,” says Noffsinger. “And anytime they’re on their hands and feet, it will automatically help them start working on core control. Then, you can transition into a variety of different movements that will help with overall control of their torso.”

Other strength and conditioning exercises that help kids work on their control and balance include things like:

  • Single leg standing
  • Activities and balance drills with partners
  • Proper lifting form, including how to bend knees and what your body position should look like
  • Energy system development (such as running games)
  • Incorporation of a ball
  • Basic weight training, including how and when to increase load

The National Strength and Conditioning Association is a great resource for additional information.

Strength and conditioning at Children’s Colorado

Noffsinger’s passion for good movement techniques stems from his work at Children’s Colorado. His team often spends months helping each athlete recover from injury. It’s both a physical and a mental process for the athletes, and it isn’t easy. That’s why, in addition to treating and educating athletes who arrive at Children’s Colorado for care, Noffsinger is using community partnerships to educate coaches, parents and athletes about reducing the risk of injury.

“We’re constantly collaborating with strength and conditioning programs at various performance facilities, high schools and club teams,” says Noffsinger. “And partnerships with organizations like the YMCA are the best way to expose young kids to these good movement techniques.”

Noffsinger hopes to create additional relationships with personal trainers and youth sports programs around the region. The more that he and his team can be educators and a resource for local professionals, the more the so-called “movement” might catch on — pun intended.