Movement Patterns & Young Athletes

by Dr. Kwame M. Brown


First, we need to understand how the human body works during movements. In a nutshell, the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) controls the muscles so that they can move efficiently to use energy wisely and to avoid injury. The central nervous system, in turn receives information about what’s happening from the muscles. Because of this process, movement patterns become important.


If the body learns to move inefficiently (or not at all) during development, then we are literally set up for injury. In fact, we can actually create structural abnormalities during childhood through improper (or lack of) movement. Let’s not forget, the body is still FORMING during childhood, partly in response to the genetic plan, and partly in response to experience. Additionally, if we move the joints together inefficiently and repeatedly, then the body will experience more friction than necessary and will wear out unevenly and probably more quickly. If we then add external weight to the bad pattern, this process of injury and degeneration can be even further accelerated.


The good news: If we start early by creating enriched, encouraging environments for kids to move in, these potential problems almost disappear, except in isolated cases where there is a sudden injury or disease. Even if a child gets a late start or ends up with poor movement habit, given time, patience and understanding, this can be corrected through teaching.


The bad news: There is less and less of this type of opportunity for children as we move along. Sports are becoming so hyper competitive that coaches feel the need to add weight to bad movement patterns so that teenagers can have the “big squat” or the “big bench”. Parents are afraid to let their children play outside, and typically only the affluent can enroll their children in dedicated physical development programs. Schools are getting less time for physical education, because governing bodies in education feel that the solution is “shut up, sit down, and let us bombard you with more information”.


Interesting answer, indeed…


What say you on this topic?


Leave your thoughts below –


23 Responses

  1. Richie Whall says:

    Fantastic post Kwame and very well put.

    Hopefully the IYCA and its growing family of dedicated coaches can hlp to slow down or even reverse this negative trend of kids moving less and less by creatibng opportunitie and encouraging all children to move more, be active and get outside and play!!

    We as coaches, parents and educators all have a very important, and often quite difficult, role to play in ensuring children enjoy being active and have opportunities for strucured and unstructured play as much as possible in the face of tough competition from the likes of sony, nintendo and the over-zealous health & safety brigade and litigation culture!

  2. gregwheatley says:

    Brian I have sent you three emails regarding cancelling my subscription and have had no reply.
    Can you email me to advise that the subscription has been cancelled.I just have no need at present for being a member.
    Thanking You,
    Greg Wheatley

  3. Mike says:

    Brian, what is your opinion on young athletes wearing weighted vests when they train running and jumping? what ages would this practice be appropriate to begin?

  4. Nelson Morales says:

    Dr. B is so correct. Why shock the system with external stimuli just to further a faulty movement pattern. Things such as bands are being introduced into pro-athletes regimens because no even sports and conditioning coaches at the elite level are realizing that if continual stimuli is placed on the muscle the athlete will be able to do their sport in a better functional manner. Let the children naturally take their course and instill the most positive aspects of live upon them.

  5. Paul says:

    How are “efficient” movement patterns defined?

    Are they self-controlled, or externally controlled?

  6. Nelson Morales says:

    Paul, from the sounds of it at a younger age group it is self controlled. Externally controlled movement patterns in a child wouldn’t be introduced until a later stage of life.

  7. Wendy says:

    I am so happy to see this. It is so important that we do not load bad movement. After recently taking the FMS (Functional Movement Screen) this has been heavily reinforced in my mind. I do a large amount of corrective exercise, with adults (full grown “kids”) with faulty movement patterns. Some of these could very well stem from childhood. Dysfunctional kids become painful, dysfunctional adults- that do not want to move. Movement, and correcting strategies is so important to stay injury free!! Thank you for an excellent article!!

  8. Roy Alfonso says:

    “Movement patterns & young athletes” How young is young?

    Every time I read these articles I’m confused because I don’t know what age the topic is addressing. “The body is still forming during childhood” to me you could be talking about a baby
    that’s crawling and establishing the cross pattern for walking. But later you talk about teenagers
    and sports.
    I believe if we don’t teach High School kids how to lift properly, it will follow them the rest
    of their lives.
    But to get back to these articles, please define the age group you’re referring to so that
    the context is clear.

  9. Dr. Kwame M Brown says:


    Brian asked me to respond to your weight vest question. My answer would be the same as my answer for barbells / dumbbells. Don’t use the extra resistance to create the pattern. Learn the pattern first.

    Also, remember that younger (pre-adolescent) children have different body proportions than adolescents / adults. This is important, because of the way that the weight vest changes weight distribution. For that reason, I would go very light. But again, playing with movements from different angles and vantage points first is in my opinion a better use of time. Once a kid becomes an accomplished mover (Moves with ease, balance and depth), we can begin to add resistance. You have plenty of time (even when you don’t).


    All movement is internally controlled, until it isn’t (when we add an external influence like weight or instability). Movement is always externally influenced by the environment. We just need to make the distinction between the word control and the word influenced. Efficient movement is seen as well balanced, “with ease”. This is seen in an aesthetic quality. Most of us will recognize that by looking at dancers, or professional athletes, but I see it in the way an active 3 year old squats to play, in the running stride of a teenager that has been consistently active and hasn’t been altered by overtraining.


    A young athlete can be defined with regard to developmental stage (pre-adolescent), or by training/skill age, which can mean anywhere from pre-adolescent to adolescent. So, it can mean both, which is why I purposefully don’t focus the discussion. When we start getting into programming details, we can begin to differentiate. But the issue itself, of movement patterning, exists up and down the “age ladder”. The main reason to differentiate the ages is to use different, more effective teaching methods for different developmental stages. So to sum up: The reason for teaching can be the same no matter what the age, but the teaching itself will be different.

  10. Paul says:

    I’d like to see a proper definition for the word “efficient.” There are many ways to classify efficiency; one, for example, would be that the goal is achieved on a consistent basis with an economy of effort. In this case, it is the outcome which defines efficiency, not the movement itself. One may move according to a desired form, but not achieve their goal. Is that efficient?

    The FMS is interesting, but it has issues. First of all, the screens were never tested for specificity and sensitivity, two critical measures which determine whether a test can accurately detect positive and negative outcomes in different populations. Because of the three-point ranking scale, the test can never be subjected to statistical analysis. After all, if 1000 people are tested, the average score will be a 2. Hard to prove statistical significance with a mean of 2 in a 3 point scale. Ultimately, the test becomes extremely subjective, and in my experience, I’ve seen more false positives arise from that test than any other measure, which, in the end, will introduce more problems than it solves.

  11. Dr. Kwame M Brown says:


    Are you sure that just doing pushups will increase bench press weight? I am sure that is true to an extent, but just as sure that there is a point at which that is no longer true.

    I would venture to say that the more important discussion would be the reason for increasing bench press weight, not what is more effective at increasing it.

  12. Great response. Big bench is now even on the minds of parents. “When is bench day?” Teach an adolescent to do pushups correctly, and every day can be “bench day” as learning how to effectively do a pushup will increase bench press weight by default.

  13. Mitchell Lamm says:

    wow…dead on…..now convincing the parents is the hard part

  14. Mike says:

    Proper push ups before worrying about any kind of bench press max for sure. However, I do have kids who cannot do proper pushups perform light DB chest presses (sets of 8 – 12). I have found its easier for an overweight kid to press DBs then try to do push ups (even from the knees).

    As far as the weight vest question with jumps, I usually go by testing results. Once I see a kid (high school age) who has made great progress in my program start to hit a plateau, then we begin to introduce weighted jumps. Basically, when they can squat very well and jump and land effortlessly, then we put the vest on. I also only like to use them for box jumping, not for more high impact exercises such as tuck jumps.

  15. Jesse Salinas says:

    Oh yes folks! we live in a world of confusion, What ever happened to good old comonsense.We must first establish good sound functional mechaniques with any developing young athletes.INTUITIONAL LOGIC is what i go onor use ,when analizing young athletes. If fundamentals are not there yet, you know you must start there, SELF DISCOVERY must be allowed with the young ones and the older ones a little sinthesis can be aplied.but it all depends where or what level we recognize they are at.

  16. Joe Kenn says:

    Raising to sons 12 and 17 I adhere to a long term developmental process of gymnastics/relative strength movements. As a Collegiate strength and conditioning coach for 20 years I have seen the mistakes of moving big weights by the time they get to me. Specifically, Shoulder and Low back issues and I am talking major issues. SLOW COOK’em PARENTS SLOW COOK’em

  17. Shawn says:

    Dr. Brown,

    “All movement is internally controlled, until it isn’t (when we add an external influence like weight or instability)”

    What about the constant external influence of gravity?
    Isn’t just standing without falling controlling your mass? Do we need to add an object to our body and/or stand/sit/lay on an unstable surface for an external influence? Can’t I also externally control/prevent movement with a passive restraint like a bench, ball, and/or pad? How bout someone that can’t control their own body weight, and “fall” into a chair as they sit, wouldn’t the chair be an external controller of their movement?

  18. Craig says:

    Very appropriate post. Patterns are really the only way the brain and subsequently the body learn anything. This is explained very well in Daniel Coyle’s THE TALENT CODE. An excellent book for anyone, but especially for those of us that work with young athletes. Keep up the good work!

  19. Dr. Kwame M Brown says:


    Good points. Yes, all of these things are influences. The term “control” is indicative of a “will” to do something.

    Furthermore, gravity is a constant we navigate independently from a very young age (from crawling), leverage and external resistance are not. For that reason, gravity is not something I count as an external influence we have to deal with anew as an effect on instruction.

    Another person’s influence could be seen as an external control. This is the fight against another will.

  20. Jahlil says:

    This makes so much sense. It is ashame that people forget to think long term and only focus on the results of the current season.

  21. Phil DuBois says:

    The above post rings very true in youth sports–so many youth sports coaches tend to focus on the season at hand (mainly because their main concern is the team’s won/loss record). We want coaches to focus their efforts on long-term outcomes, i.e., the things we teach young athletes can not only help them achieve short-term goals, but can help them throughout their lives.

  22. Chris says:

    “If the body learns to move inefficiently… during development, then we are literally set up for injury.”

    That statement is as succinctly put as any I’ve heard on the subject.

    Joe Kenn’s comment takes that thought a step further when he identifies Relative Strength as a more worthy goal of the LTAD model.

    Well done, Team!


  23. Great post Kwame,

    Far too often coaches and parents want the kids to go from A right to Z without going through B – Y. It’s like a child going from kindergarten to high school. The basics of movement are the foundation for higher learning down the road. In my opinion coaches/teachers are doing the children a major disservice and setting them up for failure, or certainly for slower progress down the road.

    The message of the IYCA and its members is a great and one that we must all continue to pass on to coaches and parents.


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