In the past 15 years or so I have had a lot of high school football players talk to me about getting bigger and/or stronger. These are often guys that any strength coach would love to work with. Kids who are already big, strong, fast, and have the genetic talent to get much, much bigger and stronger with the application of a good training plan. They are also usually motivated and I know they will work hard.
The most typical situation is a kid who started as a Junior and got some attention. Often the kid has been told by a coach or his father that with another 20-30lbs or muscle on him, he would be playing in college on a scholarship. And so, at some point between his Junior season and the summer prior to his senior year, he decides to get serious about weight training, hit the gym hard and try to lock in that college scholarship.
There is one unfortunate fact here. My friends, Rome was not built in a day. While a person can easily make solid progress in the 2-3 months that these fooball players have given themselves to “get stronger”, you can’t do in 2 months what you should have had 6 or more years to do.
Preparation to do your best in any sport as a young adult should begin at the age of 5 or 6 years old. When I was young I did not have a computer, or any electronic games. And our TV was black and white with 2 channels. The ability to watch kids shows was limited to Saturday morning cartoons. In these things I was quite normal, although we were much later than most of my friends to convert to color television. We also did not have air conditioning in our home till I was in high school. This set of conditioned meant that we played outside a LOT. We built forts, raced our BMX bikes and jumped ramps with them. We played various games and got into fights. I remember once when I was 9 or 10, we all decided to dig as big a hole as we could at the edge of the wheat field that seperated my parents small farm from the town. Five or 6 of us dug for a whole weekend on that hole, got it deep enough so that we could all get in it and stand up with our heads below ground level. We had dreams of covering it first with boards, then with dirt on the boards to camouflage it and have a secret entrance and making it our secret fort, but my dad found out what we were doing and made us fill it all back in because he was afraid it would fall in on one of us and bury us.
I don’t see kids playing like this much anymore. I know I would never catch my 10 year old son digging for hours, or even days out in the back yard for the pure fun of making a huge hole. Inside, he has air conditioning, his own laptop, an X-box and Nickelodeon on the TV blasting out shows aimed at his age group 24 hours a day. Digging and sweating outside all day would be punishment for him, not fun.
The unfortunate fact is that the lack of an active childhood with lots of physical play hurts the ultimate athletic development of many kids. And yes, the effect lasts beyond childhood. If you grew up in a rural area, weren’t the “farm kids” the ones who more often than not excelled in gym class and on the athletic field? Oh and don’t even get me started on the differences between gym class as you remember it if you are over 35, and what passes for gym class today in many cases.
How do you replace what many of us experienced as children with our own children today? My friend and Crossfit box owner Don mcCauley tells me that the Crossfit Kids program is excellent. Promoting the participation in various sports is also great. Between the age of 4 and 10, my son did martial arts, wrestling, soccer, boxing, and weightlifting. I didn’t make him do anything he didn’t want to do other than he always be participating in at least one sport, year round. It is also important to make exercise at home the norm from a young age. Walks to the park and spending some time climbing on the climbing walls was normal for William, as was a short session of kettlebells before bedtime. This was actually fun for us, as if he used an 8kb KB and I used a 24kg KB we were actually quite competitive with each other with how many snatches we could complete in 5 or 10 minutes. And oh how William loved to beat dad.
Can doing these things make up for hours of physical play every day? Probably not. But it’s better than TV or video games while laying on the couch.
If plenty of GPP is just what the doctor ordered during the grade school years, what’s next? Strength. 12 or 13 years of age is a great time to start a good, year round strength training program. If you start at this age, you can already have great technique firmly ingrained, and the body toughened enough that when the age is reached that will allow serious strength gains (14 or 15 for most) you do not have to waste time teaching technique or adapting to a workload. One who travels this path will have been able to reach a pretty high percentage of their ultimate strength potential by age 18, or by that senior year in football. I would propose that if this path were followed by most, 400lb cleans among high school football players would be fairly common.
But more importantly, if this type of thing were more common, I would not have had to tell as many kids, or their parents, that Rome was not built in a day.