Youth strength training was a controversial topic for many years. Parents and coaches were hesitant to implement strength training for fear of injury and negatively affecting children’s growth rate. Current research has proven that it is not only safe, it is also highly effective in building better athletes.
The NSCA’s updated position statement on youth resistance training is a great resource to share with coaches and parents. It provides information on what a resistance training plan can do for your athletes and how to keep them safe.
Strength is the foundation for athletic movement. Whether it’s running, jumping, kicking or throwing, improving strength can improve an athlete’s ability to perform. Besides improving strength, resistance training is an effective tool for injury prevention. We cannot prevent 100 percent of injuries; however we can drastically reduce the number by increasing strength. For example, developing eccentric strength will help athletes land safely from a jump.
Besides strength and injury prevention, strength training provides many other possible benefits, including:
- improved sport performance
- increased bone density
- improved self-esteem
- decrease in body fat
- increased fat-free mass
- improved speed
We have now determined that youth strength training can be safe and effective. We know that it can really help young athletes. The question is: how can a youth athlete take advantage of a training program? Here are the steps you should follow as a coach:
Step 1: Determine the type of training
The type of strength training you prescribe will vary depending on your athletes’ chronological age and training experience. Bodyweight training may be appropriate for young athletes, while strength training for more experienced athletes may include Olympic lifts.
Step 2: Keep it simple
When starting a program with youth athletes, keep it simple. There’s no need to get into complex movement patterns in the early stages. Young athletes will see tremendous results by focusing on the fundamentals: Push-Ups, Pull-Ups, Squats and Lunges. We want to teach young athletes fundamental movement patterns so they can build upon this foundation as they grow bigger and stronger.
Step 3: Determine frequency
Once we have decided on the training format, the next step is to determine when and how often they will train. In the early stages, one or two sessions per week will be sufficient. As the athletes progress, add more sessions if required. This often depends on school, sport and family schedules. Coaches need to be flexible; make your plan fit your athletes, not the other way around.
Step 4: Monitor progress
Now that you have selected the exercises and implemented a schedule, you need to monitor your athletes’ progress and make changes accordingly. You must also pay attention to the athletes’ level of engagement.
An athlete can bring a wide range of emotions to a training session. Maybe they just failed an important test. Maybe mom and dad were fighting. They may not tell you these things, but it’s the coach’s job to determine whether an athlete is ready to train. Ask questions, pay attention to body language and review training records. This is important to help avoid injury and overtraining.
Step 5: Work closely with each athlete
Working with youth athletes provides a coach with an opportunity to build a long-term foundation from which the athletes can grow, compete and have fun. Coaches are educators. Teach your athletes why they are doing particular exercises. Explain what muscles they are working. Ask them where they feel the exercise. Make your athletes think.
Introducing strength and conditioning programs to youth athletes will do more than help them in their sport. It will promote healthy habits they can profit from throughout their lives. Working on skills in practice will always be important to your athletes’ development. However, adding strength and conditioning will take their game—and their lives—to the next level.