Youth Athletic Training: Should be Considered Mandatory
Youth, parents, coaches and educators should be on high alert. Budget cuts, electronics and an increasing sedentary lifestyle have lead to less developed and overweight youth. The days of yard work and outdoor activities have been removed and what’s left is overweight, underdeveloped and less physically active youth. These characteristics result in lower levels of muscular and neurological development.
In September of 2009, the magazine Pediatrics released its findings from a study on injuries to youth. The findings were astonishing. Between 1977 and 2007, injuries to youth whom were involved in physical education classes increased by 150 percent. Of the 150 percent, 52 percent were in middle school. The major American sports (football, basketball, and soccer) accounted for 70 percent of the injuries. True, some sports are now year round but this injury trend clearly depicts undeveloped youth not being able to withstand sport activity due to underdevelopment.
How do we change this trend? We can start by enrolling young athletes in athletic training programs that focus on balance, coordination, flexibility, core, strength and dynamic movements. All youth should be involved in resistance training. Here are a few musts when training youth and/or looking for a facility that trains youth.
Make It Fun… youth who participate in training programs (i.e. exercise regularly) benefit in more than one way. Exercise has been shown to increase and support psychological and social development, as well as self-confidence. In addition, strength and coordination is improved upon. In 2009, a Canadian based study analyzed 7 to 12 years old youth who participated in games, strength training and nutritional programs. The results showed improved body composition, increased strength and enhanced self confidence. These results, along with all other adaptations to exercise, are a result of consistent athletic training.
A youth athletic training program should focus on core, strength, power, flexibility, dynamic movements, sprint technique, etc… The training session should teach the young athlete discipline but it must be presented in a fun manner. The strength coach should integrate obstacle courses and/or relay races. These activities can incorporate movements and exercises that were learned during the workout. The most successful youth program places emphasis on drills and exercises that emphasize proper technique while allowing the young athlete to progressively increase difficulty and practice it at 100%.
Injury Prevention Training… youth training must incorporate movements that utilize proprioception. Proprioception training involves placing athletes on a stable yet unstable environment. Examples include bosu balls, core trainers, airex pads, single leg exercises, etc… These exercises require a high degree of core stability and ligament / tendon strength, which make them great preparatory work for dynamic movements. Injury prevention training, also called pre-hab, should involve movements that emphasize core stabilization, movement specificity, unilateral training and ligament and tendon activation (i.e. proprioception).
The eccentric portion of movement, such as the deceleration portion of a sprint, is the leading cause of injury in athletics. Therefore, training the eccentric portion of exercise is vital for decreasing the risk of injury. Secondarily, the eccentric motion requires the greatest amount of muscular development, which is critical in strength development. To ensure that proper eccentric movement patterns are utilized require athletes to slow their repetition speed down during resistance training or bodyweight strength work (step ups, squats, lunges, etc…).
Select Core Movements… all resistance training programs should emphasize a core group of core exercises. Squats, pushups, pull ups, lunges, bench, Turkish get ups, planks, Olympic movements, sprint technique skipping drills and various other movements should be considered fundamental core movements for any program. Each training session should place emphasis on some of these core movements.
Repetition and coaching of these core movements will allow for neurological adaptations to occur. Neurological adaptations early allows for proper kinematics that leads to decreased injuries and increased athletic performance. Performance enhancement builds the confidence of all athletes, especially young. On the contrary, constantly introducing the young athlete to new exercises drastically limits their ability to master any movements. This leads to discouragement and failure. Although it is important for youth to experience failure, this form of failure is not advantageous.
Vary the program… strength and conditioning programs should focus fundamental dynamic and core movements first and foremost; however, variation within a program is a must. Variation can come by way of alterations to the routine, exercises, volume, load and intensity. The routine can be adjusted by selecting a set or circuit format, depending on the training goal. You can alter the load, exercises and volume by selecting heavier or lighter weights, as well as the amount of sets and repetitions within the workout. These are just a few examples of how variables can be adjusted in order to create a platform for unpredictability, which keeps young athletes engaged in the strength and conditioning program.
When programs become monotonous athletes become uninterested. However, altering the variables of the training session, along with an occasional new movement or two, will keep young athletes engaged in the program.
All jumping and plyometrics should be limited and performed using functional movements… jumping rope, skipping, hopping and two leg box jumps are all examples of preparatory plyometrics. Plyometrics, like the ones mentioned, should be incorporated into training programs once the young athlete has reached certain markers, set by the strength coach, which indicates a base level of strength. Parallel squatting is a good indicator of whether or not youth are ready for preparatory plyometrics. If a young athlete does not show enough neurological awareness to parallel squat then that athlete should not perform high impact plyometrics. If this is the case then choose core and simple coordination exercises that will help develop the young athlete before adding plyometrics.
Young athletes must be gradually introduced to preparatory plyometrics, during each training cycle, and they may not even be suitable for young athletes until the fourth or sixth week. This will depend on if the athlete can reach their general strength markers. Each phase should have specific goals. Here is a general overview of what different phases might look like:
-Phase one: learning proper sprint, squat, push up and lunge techniques.
-Phase two: an introduction into more complex movements with added external stimulus by way of medicine balls, bands, suspension training, light barbells and dumbbells.
-Phase three and four: start incorporating exercises with greater technical difficulty. These phases must be written individually to account for the young athlete’s ability to perform specific movements.
Proceed with caution… young athletes are not miniature adults. With that said creating a sport specific program at a very early age is not recommended. Young athletes must first be developed into general athletes. They must first show an ability to perform proper sprint form; proper squat form; a base level of core strength; total body coordination; and various other dynamic movements. Once these markers have been achieved sport specific training can start to be implemented into the program.
Training young athletes during times of growth spurts must be taken with extreme caution. During growth spurts the growth plates are open and are extremely vulnerable to fracture. During times of heavy growth spurts both the strength coach and sport coach should limit the amount of plyometrics performed. However, it is extremely important to keep up with training because movement patterns can be un-learned easily during this time due to changing bony lever systems.
Youth training should be considered mandatory because of the increasing number of injuries. Athletic performance programs that incorporate these “musts” should be implemented in every school and club program.
Copyright Functional Muscle Fitness LLC © 2012
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