Getting players to move from static to dynamic stretching
By now it’s been pretty well established that dynamic stretching — stretches that have the body in motion — are far better for preparing teams for athletic competition than the old static stretches where you assume a position and hold it.
The big revelation is that static stretching does nothing for injury prevention (beyond adding a little flexibility), and actually turns the nervous system off, making players slower and less able to respond. Dynamic stretching turns the nervous system on, which is particularly important in a speed game such as fastpitch softball. Here’s a link to an article that explains it much more detail. (Full disclosure: I am affiliated with Softball Performance as administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum community, but have nothing to do with the DVDs shown.)
Even if you buy into it as a coach, though, you may find it’s only half the battle. The tough part sometimes is getting your players to buy into it and change their old habits.
Seems hard to believe, doesn’t it? You wouldn’t think that 12 or 14 or even 18 year olds are so set in their ways that it would be difficult. But I’ve been there and know the kind of resistance you can face.
One thing you’ll often hear when you’re showing them the new, improved stretching routine is “I feel stupid.” Not sure why being in motion would make them feel any stupider than standing there holding a stretch but it often does. Perhaps it’s that your team is the only one flailing around like that, while the others do what they’ve always done. In truth that’s good news for you, because it’s giving you a competitive advantage. But only if your team is doing it.
Make the transition requires some effort on your part. First, you don’t ask the team if they want to do it. You just tell them this is what we’re doing. You’re the coach, make it mandatory, just like every other rule you have. I doubt you give players the option of whether they get low on a ground ball. Tell them this is the way it is and have done with it.
That’s how you get them to compliance. To really get the benefit, though, you have to make sure they’re really putting the effort in. Static stretching is really easy to do; it takes little effort, and your players won’t break a sweat. Dynamic stretching, however, requires a great deal more work, which is another reason they may resist. So you have to stay on them.
If I see players just going through the motions, I will stop them and demonstrate what I want done. I can still do a straight-legged kick in front and get my toes up even with my shoulders. Not sure how I can do that but I can. So I show them what I can do and tell them if they can’t beat a fat, out-of-shape old man then they’re pretty pathetic. That usually gets their attention, and they start pushing themselves more. Which is what you want.
The last thing you might hear is “It makes us too tired.” If that’s the case, tell them it sounds like they need to work on their conditioning, so you’ll be doing ladders and poles for the first part of every practice from now on so they’re not too tired to stretch properly. That usually ends that discussion. If it doesn’t, be prepared to follow through.
There are a great many benefits to dynamic stretching — too many to ignore. Make it an absolute, and pretty soon it just becomes accepted as the way your team does things. You not only get to win the battle; your team gets to improve its performance and prevent injury. It’s a victory for everyone.