3 Things to Remember When Training Youth Athletes

Neal Prokop & Jeff Wood / Sport Performance Specialists

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1. Puberty changes everything.

The hormonal and biomechanical changes that kick in during adolescence greatly impact how one controls their centre of mass within their base of support. Prepubescent training is all about having fun and establishing solid foundations of movement that set young athletes up for future success. By building good movement and good habits as youth, athletes are able to adapt, adjust and take off as they grow into their adult frame.

2. Youth training sessions and practices are more about establishing fundamentals and routines, just as much so as they are about creating adaptation.

Our Performance Centre structures and creates training sessions that become routine. We encourage self-myofascial release work before the session, including foam rolling and lacrosse ball trigger point work. We then get into a thorough warm up, using the RAMP method of R-Raise (heart rate, breathing rate, etc.), A-Activate and M-Mobilize (with more specific movements and ranges of motion for that day’s session), and P-Potentiate (these movements are the final preparation for the movement skills we will be working on for the session, and are the most intense part of the warm up). That’s followed by any plyometric, speed and change of direction work. We then get into the strength component of the training session and usually always end off with some type of finisher.

We want to build excellent training habits so our young athletes learn to move well with good technique and understand the benefits of training for their performance and overall health. This proactive approach between the ages of 10 and 12 helps youth tremendously when they’re 16 and have more legitimate stresses on their bodies and are ready for more specialized programming.

3.  Youth should see continued and linear gains and improvement in strength and general athletic attributes. 

Our goal is building sound training habits is to encourage year-round development of strength, speed and power.  It’s disappointing to be starting from scratch year after year if an athlete only trains during their off season.  As an example, let’s say a group of youth athletes comes in at age 14/15 and make noticeable increases in their squat, bench press and deadlift from say 115 to 185 over the course of a few months. Their technique is good, and they’ve learned to feel how the exercise should feel.

Then, their sports season starts and the athletes disappear for six months. At the end of the season, they come back and all start back at the original 115 pounds. Sure, this off-season there’s a bit of a technical foundation, and they might make those gains a little bit faster than the first time around. But they should be getting stronger, and we could then be working on some introductory mechanics or technical aspects that have additional benefits in their sport of choice (speed, for example). The goal is to never have setbacks in beginners because the positive adaptations are so easy to come by with consistent training, even if it’s only two days per week of in-season work. A well-designed program done year round will build continual results, especially among youth athletes.  

For more questions on developing your youth athlete, and to get your kids started, contact us at performance@sportmanitoba.ca.