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    Why Should My Child Stretch Prior To Playing Sports?

    All coaches understand the importance of stretching after participation in sport/activities, which helps to prevent muscle soreness the next day and aids in muscle recovery. Unfortunately, there seems to be far less emphasis placed on stretching before exercise.
    Stretching prior to participation in sport (whether it be soccer, basketball, dance, gymnastics, etc.) is extremely important and necessary. Here are the reasons why your child should stretch before:

    1. INCREASED SPORT PERFORMANCE. Increasing the length of a muscle (flexibility) will improve the maximal potential for power, strength, speed, balance and agility. Here are two examples: i) If a soccer player is able to move his/her leg further back during the preparatory phase of a shot, more power can be created. ii) In running, a method used to optimize speed is to increase range of motion. A stretched muscle will encounter less resistance from contraction and tension, thereby requiring less energy to complete a movement.
    2. REDUCE THE RISK OF INJURY. Stretching increases flexibility, the ability to move joints through a full range of motion, thereby reducing the risk of injury. It is important to understand that stretching prior to sport should not be done when the muscles are cold. It is recommended that a light warm-up (5-10 minutes) be completed prior to stretching. The most common injuries are from muscle tears or strains. This occurs when the muscle extends too far and can be prevented with stretching.

    Stretching after participation in sport plays a key role in aiding muscle recovery and prevention of muscle soreness in the days following the activity. It is also a good time to work on increasing flexibility, as the muscles are nice and warm. To increase compliance with stretching try and make it fun, here are some ideas to try at home:

    • Do a family stretching class: Have the whole family participate at home and do the stretches together. If your children see their parents, possibly even their siblings, doing the stretches, they will likely be more motivated.
    • Enroll your children in a kids yoga program: Look for a kid friendly yoga class in your neighborhood. Why not encourage a friend to join them as well?
    • Make a game out of it: While your children are watching TV, have them stretch during the commercials. Most commercials are 30 seconds long, which is how long a stretch should be held for. Have your child do a different stretch during each commercial and see how creative they can be.

    Getting into the habit of stretching both before and after activity, at an early age, can go a long way in aiding success and prevention of injury. To learn specific stretches that are appropriate for your children, feel free to book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists.

    About Tanya Barrett, PT, BSc PT.

    Tanya Barrett is a registered Physiotherapist and in good standing with the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario. Tanya graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy from the University of Toronto after pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology at York University.