Training Youth Athletes

A common question that I hear is, “how old do you have to be to start training at your facility?”  To me this is a pretty easy question to answer, but also a loaded answer.

When we talk about athletic development, there are a few windows of opportunity that we can expect to use to enhance performance in athletes.  Just because I have a window of opportunity to advance an athletes potential doesn’t mean I need to get all sport specific with it.  In previous articles I have eluded to spending a great deal of time developing the foundation for youth athletes, or general prep if that is easier to remember.  Just because I have an opportunity to improve athletic ability in a youth athlete doesn’t mean I need to make them proficient in 1RM cleans.  I “can” hold a firecracker in my hand and light it, but it wouldn’t be very intelligent.  Just like I “can” develop maximal cleans in a 10-year-old, but that still isn’t very intelligent.

The lost art of development, playing on the playground.  There are even schools where you aren’t allowed to run!  All because there is a fear of children getting hurt.  I could jump onto my soap box and have a complete rant, but I will stay on point here.  Kids in preschool, elementary, and middle school all are allotted time to go out and play.  They jump, run, bound, throw, play tag, etc.  If that isn’t athletic development I don’t know what is.  I spend the first 30 minutes of training sessions warming up and working on running, jumping, throwing, and agility.  These are the showcase items for my older athletes.

Specializing kids too early is a sure fire way to burn a kid out from ever wanting to play that sport again.  It’s also a great way for a kid to resent their parent.  Allowing a child to participate in a variety of events allows for better athletic development.  Experiencing movements outside of what is normal in their favorite sport will allow them to become more agile and athletic.

What can a child who hasn’t hit puberty expect to do and see?  There is no reason to take a prepubescent child and load them up under the bar.  Develop their ability to perform these exercises that you want to accomplish in the long term development plan.  Squatting, hinging, pressing, pulling are all exercises that can start off with simple body weight.  Once they become proficient in these bodyweight exercises you can consider handling a light weight.  Then slightly heavier.  And heavier.  The point is that these kids will become stronger (mostly through their nervous system adaptation), but not exactly larger.  How could they? They haven’t even hit puberty yet.

Once they hit puberty, the long term plan continues.  Start adding heavier weight and adding new challenges.  They will become more powerful, faster, stronger, insert any synonym.  They now have the hormonal profile to support what you are throwing at them.  But a word of caution: don’t throw the kitchen sink at them.  Allow for normal development.  The newest, coolest thing isn’t the best option.  Often times the new workout it either a fad or a new way of eliciting a response in an athlete who has already developed their foundation.

To sum up, kids can virtually start at any age, however, I wouldn’t really recommend them starting too early.  I have nine and 10 year olds at our facility, but realistically a mentor of mine said 11 years old is a great age to begin.  I’ll stick with that.

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