Youth athletes are not small adults. Growing bodies and young minds require a careful, progressive training program that lays the foundation for a healthy lifestyle and enjoyment of their sport(s). Imposing adult programs upon youth athletes may lead to a short-term improvement in one aspect of fitness, but it is fraught with risks: overtraining, injury and burnout. It also limits the potential of the youth athlete by confining their exercises within a narrow corridor of specificity.
Youth athletes need to move well, often move, and incorporate a large variety of exercises and movements to increase their skill set, minimize boredom and reduce the risk of injury.
Instead of how much, think of how well.
Adults love metrics, ‘How far did you run today?’ ‘How much can you bench?’ Applying numbers to youth athletes immediately limits what they will do.
Instead of a number, encourage the athlete to move well.
Then repeat that movement.
Then do that movement faster or make it more difficult.
Repeat with a different movement.
The accumulation of quality movements increases the athletes’ strength, endurance and confidence. They get fit without having to ‘embrace the grind’.
Here is an example of a training program for one day with that in mind.
Jump rope: This can be done on the spot or with a running action. Start with simple revolutions and build up the numbers until you can do sets of 100 or for 1 minute, then add different moves and tricks for variety.
Grid moves: Place four cones or markers to make a 5 meter by 5-meter square. Start at cone 1, do side skips, side shuffles, or side crawls to cone 2, then run or skip across the diagonal to cone four and repeat the side movement on the opposite side of the grid to cone three and then run or skip across the diagonal until you are back at cone 1.
Using small squares limits how fast you can move and prevents overdoing one movement. Go round twice doing one set of exercises, rest, and then try different moves for another set.
Get offs: Speed and acceleration are important in almost every sport. It is easy to run the speed out of athletes by doing too much steady-state work. Instead, work on accelerating fast from different positions and slowly walk back to recover.
- From a 3 point stance, burst for two strides and gradually decelerate. Three on each side.
- From a crouch, start sprint for 10-15 meters. 4 times.
- Fast skips for 10 meters, sprint for 20 meters. Four times. This requires coordination to transition from light, quick feet to driving hard into the ground for the sprint.
Squat mobility routine: Squats are a staple of athletic training. This sequence helps develop the mobility of the ankles and hips; It is important to develop and maintain a full range of movement rather than load a limited range with barbells and dumbbells.
Hand balances: 5 minutes A great way to build core, wrist, elbow and shoulder strength. Youth athletes need to build bone strength and loading the upper body through hand-balances is a fun way of achieving this. Start from the ground up to minimize the injury risk.
Rolling: 5 minutes of rolling helps mobilize the back and counteract the stiffness and slumped postures created by too much screen and desk time. It doesn’t have to be technically perfect, as seen in this video. A soft mat helps enough space so that you don’t knock over any furniture.
By no means is this a comprehensive program, but it does show a framework of exercises that help develop strength, mobility, speed, agility, and balance. Replacing the exercises above with variations every few workouts will ensure that the youth athlete is constantly stimulated but not overwhelmed. Training frequency will build their foundation as effectively as adding more repetitions to each workout.