While stretching is normally incorporated at the beginning and end of practice, many times young athletes don't realize its importance. They may rush through stretches in order to start playing sooner or use it as a time to talk with teammates. Young athletes should understand the importance of stretching and why all athletes should take the time to properly stretch regardless of the sport they play.
Properly stretching allows your core body temperature to warm up slowly and enables your muscles and joints to loosen up, giving you a better range of motion. It's critical to prepare the body for specific movements by warming up the parts of the body that will be utilized while playing. For example, a soccer player should focus on warming up their knees and feet, while softball players should focus more on stretching their shoulders and arms.
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If you skip your stretching warm up, your body doesn't have time to prepare for quick movements when playing, which can result in injuries. To avoid injuries, it's wise to participate in a light cardio activity such as jogging for 10 to 15 minutes prior to playing, followed by a stretching routine. Below are three general stretches that can benefit any athlete:
Cone exercises: these can include high kicks and high knees, side shuffles and skips
Core rotations: stretch your abdomen out by rotating your core to each side
Extended stretches: these can include internal and external rotations and forward and reverse fly stretches
It's also equally important to stretch out your muscles following every practice or competition to break up lactic acid. Stretching after an intense workout will help your muscles repair faster and will also help to avoid injury. By following these simple and easy to remember stretching practices, you will find yourself feeling more confident in your training and recovery.
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