Youth athletes are often the unlucky recipients of training programs tailored to adults, minus some ancillary details. In reality, kids deserve a much more specialized approach.
A child is not just a small adult. We tailor nutrition, sleep, and education to meet the needs of our youth, so why not training too?
Children may be stressed daily by classes, relationships, and pressure from a parent or coach that adults do not face. When anything becomes overwhelming, it puts a child at greater risk for injury or burnout.
Adult athletes typically train for one sport at the college or pro level, whereas a child is more likely to play multiple sports in the same year.
Some youth athletes may never have time off built into their schedule, so attempting to adopt a model of training suited more for adults while not recovering like one looks like a recipe for disaster.
How Does Training Differ?
Some children mature at an earlier age than others and rack up a significant amount of training time from the start. I refer to this as “training age”, meaning that while an athlete may be young biologically, they display a high level of experience beyond what an untrained peer or even somebody older than them may have.
Youth athletes have not scratched the tip of the iceberg by the age of 18 when it comes to developing their peak strength, aerobic capacity, neuromuscular coordination, and cognitive ability.
Long-term athletic development needs to be a top priority.
Below are goals youth athletes must accomplish with their training versus adult athletes:
- Emphasis on coordination and integrative neuromuscular training.
- Movement competency
- General strength, aerobic capacity, and endurance
- Play and fun
- Skill development and discovery
- Progressive overload
- Injury reduction
- Increased efficiency
- Higher work capacity
- Higher training loads
- Maximize physiological qualities (strength, power, speed, endurance)
- Skill mastery
- Highest level of competition
While this table is far from comprehensive, it provides some insight into the general differences between training teens and adults.
Teenagers should lift weights, jump, sprint, squat, hinge, push, pull, and carry things. This is non-negotiable. The volume of training and the routine needs to be distinct from adults.
When training kids, we need to remember that each session revolves around skill development more than just an acute dose of stress.