Training to increase athletic performance has become increasingly popular and more important. It has also become more competitive all the way down to the youth level with year-round club and travel teams. Youth sports have become a multi-billion dollar industry, with many parents dreaming of their child getting a college scholarship and maybe even becoming a professional athlete. The right type of training program can make a huge difference in an athlete’s development and athletic performance. Unfortunately, many training programs for youth athletes aren’t suitable for young athletes and may, in fact, be harmful to their development. For the parent wanting to get their young athlete starting on an athletic performance training program, the best thing they can do is educate themselves as much as possible on youth sports and youth athlete training. This can be easier said than done. With so much information out there, including myths and misinformation and different training programs for youth athletes, it may be hard for a parent to know what is best for their child’s athletic development both short and long term. In this article, I will go over some tips and things to look for in a youth athlete training program and what my partner Barry Brown and I do with our youth athlete training programs. This is not a complete list but more so a guide of different areas to focus on and pay attention to when getting your young athlete started in an athletic performance training program.
1) First things first, keep it simple. Go by the KISS method. Keep It Simple Stupid. It can be easy for parents and kids to get enthralled by the flash and sizzle of some different training programs, athletic performance equipment, and athletic training drills and exercises they may see. With youth athletes, many of which are new to strength and sports performance training, the emphasis should be on trying to teach movement and learning basic movement patterns. The focus should not be going in the gym and throwing a bunch of heavy weights around and trying to perform advanced actions that they aren’t ready and able to perform and properly execute. I coach youth football, and some of my players train with me. I can tell you that even as teenagers and being very good athletes and football players when I get them in the gym, many of them show significant weaknesses in certain drills and executing basic movement patterns. They just do not have the muscular coordination, stability, body control and strength yet to perform these movements correctly let alone jump right into a squat rack or into a bench press and start pushing a bunch of weight. They need to learn not just to perform the movement right first but master it. This is what lays the foundation for the athlete for long term development and athletic success while also helping them stay injury-free.
2) This is a follow up on number one. Learn the basic movements and movement patterns in the correct form and with the correct technique. We like to focus on the basic functional movement patterns of squat, hip hinge, pulling (both vertical and horizontal), pushing and core and spinal stabilization as well as how to correctly hop, jump, land, run, generate force, absorb force and brace for force among other athletic movement skills. These basic movement patterns are used in pretty much all sports, especially any team sport, so it is important to learn to do them all correctly. Performing these movements correctly is not just about using the proper form and with the correct technique but using the correct muscles in the correct sequence or pattern.
3) Once an athlete has learned how to perform and master the basic movements correctly, they can make the next progression in the training program. Making the correct progressions with a youth athlete and at the correct time is a very important part of any athlete’s training program. We go by a simple saying. Learn it, load it, explode it. An athlete must first learn the movement, and then they can progress to loading the movement with some form of external resistance (dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell, resistance bands, etc.). Then they can advance to performing the movement explosively. This applies to not just advancing with a specific movement but advancing and progressing with the right intensity, frequency of training, volume of training, and specificity of training.
4) Have a complete training program. Any athlete training program should be complete and cover all aspects of movement and performance. A complete program should include a focus on injury prevention and reduction, power development, functional strength training, energy system conditioning, speed development, agility, and flexibility.
5) A part of any athlete’s training programs should be individualization. This includes individualization to their age, level of physical development, and level of maturity as well as individualized to address and correct any structural and muscle imbalances. There is no such thing as individualization as it pertains to sports specific training because, as previously stated, many, if not all, of the basic movement patterns apply to almost all sports.
6) Don’t over train. This pertains to not just how many times a week an athlete trains but the workout duration, intensity, and the total volume of the workout and training program. This will not just keep the athlete from mental burnout and fatigue but physical as well and help to ensure they are safe and injury-free. Injury prevention should be the number one focus of any training program. Our workouts are one hour, and we usually recommend twice a week workouts for in-season youth athletes and three times a week for the off-season.