Should Youth Athletes Strength Train?

When I speak to parents about their children & strength training I usually get conflicting views and opinions on the matter. In this blog id like to give an overview on the topic and assure parents that strength training performed in the right environment and under the right supervision is a safe and beneficial practice for all youth athletes. Some parents get the idea that strength training means their child doing crazy exercises, lifting heavy weights and spine crunching techniques.

 

The research clearly tells us youth athletes can boost their physical capabilities and reduce possible chance of injury with the right training program. Key word “right” training program, there’s so much out there its hard to know what’s right and wrong. This is why its essential you find the right coach with experience working with youth athletes. Poor program prescription can reduce training adaptations or even lead to injury so its important for the welfare of the child and their development that you are educated correctly. Some key areas to develop through strength training are:

o   Motor skills (Throw, catch, bound etc.)

o   Strength (Important for injury prevention)

o   Power (Jump height & distance)

o   Speed (Sprint, accelerations, decelerations)

o   Flexibility/ mobility

o   Endurance

o   Agility/ change of direction

 

Physical performance does improve naturally with growth and maturation but training can enhance performance greatly. Change needs to be big enough to ensure that the training is solely responsible, not the athlete just maturing naturally.  In childhood primary changes in performance can be caused by nervous system development & cerebral maturation. During the early stages of nervous system development motor control is subconsciously reinforced.

You’ve heard it before but childhood is the best time to learn correct movement patterns & motor skills as the system is very receptive for adaptation. Once the child hits puberty they will experience a growth spurt where growth hormone and other sex hormone concentrations are increased. This stage yields big changes in body composition and muscle mass which lead to enhancement of speed, strength, and power. Combining this with a good training program can produce great performance enhancements. Its important to note that some youth will develop at different rates naturally. An athletes actual training age should be considered when designing a program in addition to their biological age. Training programmes should also consider the athlete’s technical competency. I’m not saying all children should be trained like pro athletes, I am saying there is a need for training structure and progression according to the athlete’s level. Its important to ensure the enjoyment is high for the athlete, loss of interest can be detrimental physically and physiologically.

Strength training in the right environment can create a good atmosphere for a positive psychological benefit. They are exposed to ownership, responsibility, communication skills and work ethic to name a few which can carry over into vital skills for life ahead.

Proper training guidelines, variation and adequate supervision will make strength & conditioning programs safe, effective and fun for youth athletes. Coaches should understand the physical and emotional uniqueness of children, and, in turn, children should appreciate the benefits associated with strength training for the future.

By Tim Frey

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