The emphasis of training young athletes (ages 7-14) should always be on safety. According to an article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, over 75% of the injuries occurring in the weight room were accidental and could have been avoided with correct supervision and proper training loads. Additionally, physical inactivity is strongly associated to in-game injuries. This is why an age appropriate general strength and conditioning program can help to reduce injury and improve potential movement deficiencies in the young athlete. The age to start a strength program will depend more on emotional maturity and physical development over chronological age.
There are many benefits to strength training youth athletes, but before you start loading up your second grader with a heavy barbell, understand the goal with youth athletes is going to be to increase strength, function, and motor control over muscle size. Training with proper technique and appropriate loads using body weight exercises, free weights, medicine balls, weighted sleds, resistance bands, and machines is an effective way to improve your child’s general foundation to play their sport and reduce sport related injuries. There is no need to rush progress, consistency will pay dividends. Volume, intensity, and skill should be increased incrementally over time, so take your time.
Regardless of sport, if genetics and sport specific skill are equal, the strongest person or team wins. I’ve heard it simplified, if you have 11 strong kids on a football team and they are playing 11 weak kids, who do you think is going to win? The ability to produce higher levels of force will allow athletes exceed their genetics through training. The younger the athlete, the larger the emphasis on coordination. Keep in mind, the measurement of progress is performance on the field and zero injuries, not pounds on the bar.
Strength, in and of itself, does not make a great athlete specific to their sport. There are plenty of high school players with big back squats who lack the coordination to do a jumping jack. However, strength training does raise the ceiling of their potential. According to Yuri Verkhoshonsky, strength increases an athlete’s ability to learn and perform a given movement pattern at maximum speed or using maximum strength. This will lend itself to acquiring and improving technical skills. As the capacity of strength is improved, the athlete can bridge the gap to transfer the speed and strength into sport specific skill.
To prevent boredom and reduce the chance of injury, the training program should have some variety. This does not mean that the athlete or coach should pull exercises out of a hat at random. Exercise selection should depend on what the program is trying to accomplish, available equipment, and coach competency. In line with Essential of Strength Training and Conditioning, youth strength programs should follow a model of progressive overload with variation in exercise selection, intensity, volume, and frequency. In other words, build quality movement in multiple planes of motion that complement the athlete’s general athletic development, not sport specific skill. It is the role of the sport coach to teach sport specific technique, and as a strength coach, it is our goal to improve the general athletic ability of the youth athlete and give them a solid foundation as they move into adulthood. If the goal is to improve sport performance or health while derailing the negative consequences of general inactivity, a general strength and conditioning program can help.
Shaun specializes in training programs for youth athletes that focus on improve strength and coordination while focusing on safety and proper technique. Click below to schedule a free intro with Shaun to see how he can help you reach your goals with a strength & conditioning program.