Training the youth athlete effectively takes thought, adherence to science-based modalities, patience and always a bit of fun! With the proper type of programming, training youth athletes can produce measurable results rather quickly, while still maintaining a safe environment that leads to building a foundation of efficient movement skills for the future.
Many of us have heard the theory that strength training for younger children can lead to stunted growth and ultimately hinder their sports performance capabilities in the future. While there are definitely some exercises and training protocols that have age and skill limitations, proper age based training can have huge benefits for youth athletes. A physiological attribute of proper strength training that is often overlooked, is its ability to help reduce injury by increasing joint integrity and bone density. Proper strength training can also allow an injured athlete to recover more quickly than an untrained individual.
At Nakoa, we like to break down our youth training protocols based on developmental ages of athletes as our starting point and work from there. Below are some examples, but keep in mind some kids develop earlier than others, with girls generally developing earlier than boys.
Ages 7 and younger: the focus is on exploring movement and not much else. Running, jumping and just play in general should be the focus. It needs to be a fun environment that encourages exploration and discovery of the how the body moves in different planes and locomotive patterns, so think much less structured.
Ages 7-10: “training” becomes a bit more structured, but is always focused on learning the foundational movement patterns and building their literacy within each of those patterns. (the 8 foundational movement patterns we use at Nakoa are: squatting, hinging, lunging, pushing, pulling, gait, rotation, and breathing). These patterns will be constantly worked on in each of the subsequent stages. We will encourage activities that challenge balance, coordination, and speed during this time frame as well.
Ages 10-12: Now we start to really hone in body weight technique of those foundational movement patterns and may start to introduce some lightweight (medicine balls, light dumbbells, etc.) as technique becomes more solid. We will start to work on their different energy systems as well (conditioning/cardio in layman’s terms). Many kids will be playing some sort of organized sport by this age as well, which is a great addition to training in general. Speed work is another imperative area to work on at this time.
Ages 12-16: This is the train to train phase. We start to get more specific so that we can train to realize certain performance outcomes. Technique is still a major emphasis, as is gaining confidence in a weight room and learning the discipline it takes in order to realize those performance outcomes. We will start to implement some more power based modalities to teach the athlete how to use their strength to put more force into the ground, resulting in better speed and power production.
Ages 16+: Now we are in the training to compete phase of development. Athletes will start to specialize in one to two sports, three at most. The training environment becomes much more structured in order to ensure the athlete peaks at the right times of the year based on competition schedule. Many athletes begin training year-round during this phase, so building resiliency is paramount, as is avoiding overtraining. Another attribute of this phase that doesn’t get much mention, is the preparation for the next level. In many cases, these athletes will be going on to college, whether to play their sport or simply to continue their education. At Nakoa we feel it is our job to prepare our youth athletes at this stage of development for the next step whatever that may be. Whether that is being self-sufficient in a weight room and/or learning what it takes to compete at the next level and the discipline involved requires a mental toughness aspect that will serve them long after their sports careers are over.
In summary, youth training is important for a myriad of reasons, beyond simple sports performance. We know the amount of athletes that will not continue to play in college, or through college is considerable; however, the importance of training with regards to overall health is essential. Learning how to train through the various maturation stages listed above will help that young person be more confident and self-sufficient in seeking out ways to stay active hopefully much later into life.