What Should Young Athletes Expect When Embarking on a Training Program?
March 23, 2013 | Mike Mejia
Kobe Bryant squatting with chains. RG III working the battle ropes. These radical drills have a major impact, not only on the pros' performance, but also on young impressionable athletes who follow them.
It's important for kids to understand how big a role training plays in overall athletic development. However, before embarking on a program, a lot of groundwork needs to be laid before they can safely benefit. Stressing this issue is imperative for us as coaches. So what exactly should young athletes expect when they first embark on a training program? (See also How to Start a Training Program.)
An Improved Sense of Kinesthetic Awareness
In order to move efficiently, athletes need a strong sense of how their bodies move during various athletic movements. Performing exercises through multiple planes of motion is one of the best ways to improve this awareness. These types of drills are easily performed with body weight or light resistance in the form of medicine balls, rubber tubing or light dumbbells. No need to start off using big, heavy weights.
Exercises to try:
Better Mobility and Coordination
Engaging in a structured training program—especially one that places a heavy emphasis on improving dynamic flexibility—reprograms the central nervous system to move in a fluid, integrated fashion. Regular execution of the movement patterns listed above will enable young athletes to increase their range of motion. This will set the stage for a more intensive focus on hypertrophy, strength and power development later on down the line.
To improve movement rhythm and timing, add:
Increased Systemic Strength and Endurance
During the initial phases of strength training, young athletes should focus on total body exercises instead of specific muscle groups—i.e., exercises that involve lots of muscles contracting across multiple joints. A program built around squatting, lunging, pressing and pulling will create a stronger, more stable body. These higher energy-demanding exercises also aid in the development of endurance. Learning to manage the systemic fatigue that often results from training the body like a functional unit will enable kids to better withstand the rigors of participating in competitive sports.
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Improved Balance and Proprioception
Enhancing the ability to shift quickly and stabilize can have a positive impact on performance while preventing injury.
Balance training involves:
- Three dimensional movement patterns (e.g., Bodyweight Lunges)
- Single limb exercises (e.g., Single-Legged Squat)
- Shifting weight from one body segment to another (e.g., Overhead Press)
No matter how it's implemented, improving balance should definitely be considered a prerequisite before moving on to more advanced forms of training.
One thing that young athletes will notice almost immediately is an improved sense of self-esteem. Whether it's the ego boost they get from telling their buddies they've started working out, or the slight residual soreness, kids who exercise on a regular basis carry themselves differently than their less active peers. Knowing that they're doing something that will likely result in improved performance is often all the motivation a youngster needs to make an ongoing commitment to fitness. The fact that they're going about it in a manner that virtually guarantees proper long-term athletic development and a decreased risk of injury makes them feel even better about themselves.
Remember, when you're dealing with young athletes, training isn't about making dramatic increases in strength and speed overnight. As eager as kids may be to improve, we must convey to them the need to be patient and have more realistic expectations. A focus on short-term success almost always leads to long-term disappointment.