For many families, the arrival of spring also means the start of spring sports, but as any athlete can tell you, the work begins long before opening day. Whether a child is anticipating her first Tee Ball game, playing travel soccer, or involved in varsity sports, there are ways to prepare now for the coming season of physical activity.
Lou Marinelli, the head football coach and the JV hockey coach at Connecticut’s New Canaan High School, and a physical education teacher for over 30 years, says,“The most important thing that athletes can do now to prepare for spring sports is to begin a developmental conditioning program, including both cardiovascular and strength training, to raise their general physical fitness.” This type of regimen includes doing sports specific activity, like going to the batting cages and throwing for baseball, or running for lacrosse.
“The whole idea is to prevent injuries during the season by conditioning the body before the season starts,” says Marinelli. “Then when the season starts, teaching can begin, because the athlete is physically ready.”
Says Tani Taormina, president and founder of the Modern School of Soccer, “Children can prepare for the coming soccer season by doing activities, such as stretching exercises, jumping jacks, running and practicing with a soccer ball, at least once or twice a week.”The school offers year-round soccer instruction and competition at locations in Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn.
According to Taormina, “The goal is to teach the educational techniques of soccer and to tailor the lessons to meet each child's specific needs, all while having fun. The instructors use exercises influenced by Swedish stretching, martial arts, gymnastics, and yoga, so that the children do not even realize that they are exercising.” This is too much like an ad; let’s end it after the word exercising above: There are indoor programs offered daily, as well as outdoor programs offered during the spring and fall at locations throughout the city, for children ages 3-9. Between the flexible schedules, reasonable prices, family discounts, and tournaments, the Modern School of Soccer allows kids the chance to keep their exercise and conditioning routine throughout the year.
Dr. Paul Weiss, the senior program director for Asphalt Green in Manhattan, stresses the importance of children learning to move safely. Through traditional conditioning in advance, it is possible to prevent season-ending injuries, like a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a common knee injury in girls. The ACL can be strengthened by practicing movement in non-linear ways, such as playing catch with a tennis ball or an odd-shaped ball.
“Core work, which is any exercise that stabilizes the midsection, is also important for any sport. The most important factor in making children active is parents modeling that behavior for their children,” says Dr. Weiss.
Asphalt Green offers programs for many different sports, at many different levels. To improve strength, agility, core stability, and athletic performance, they have Sport Specific Training (SST). SST provides athletes with a thorough evaluation, a training plan based on that evaluation, and individualized coaching.
According to Tony Arrichiello, of Frozen Ropes in Elmsford, children can begin preparing for a season of baseball or softball even before they go to their first practice. At home, children can practice throwing a ball against a wall and catching it with their glove; they should do this at least twice a week. Parents can take children to the batting cages to practice hitting, also twice a week. Children can strengthen their leg muscles by playing running games, like tag, when weather permits.
Frozen Ropes offers clinics for hitting, pitching or fielding, for children ages 7-12. They also offer two after-school programs, vacation camp, and a non-competitive activity class to introduce very young children to athletic movement, as well as customized programs for baseball and softball.
For more info:
Modern School of Soccer: 718-204-8534; www.themodernschoolofsoccer.com
Asphalt Green: 212-369-8890; www.asphaltgreen.org
Frozen Ropes: 914-345-3370; www.frozenropes.com
LAUREN RUSH is a freelance writer and editor living in Westchester with her husband and four children.She has written articles on health, education, parenting, and business for various magazines.