This winter while I was speaking to High School Football Coaches at a few Glazier Clinics, one of the most popular questions I got was, “what would you do with a youth football team?” Honestly, I love the question because so much great training can be done with the youth student-athlete, and you don’t even need access to a weight room or fancy training equipment. In fact, I might argue that your training plan will be more effective without a weight room or fancy equipment because it’ll cause you to focus less on teaching kids to move implements and more on teaching them to move their own bodies well. After all, if a student-athlete cannot move their own body well, they’ve got no chance to move their body AND a bar or dumbbell well. Plus, removing the implement takes out an element of injury causing potential and makes training more accessible to teams.
In today’s post I will be covering 6 Keys to Training the Youth Athlete. It comes at a great time as I am getting ready to launch a Youth Athletic Development Program this summer.
1- Develop Body Weight Strength
As I mentioned above, developing the strength to move one’s body weight well is a prerequisite skill for strength training with external load (i.e. barbells, dumbbells, etc.). For most young student-athletes, body weight provides a sufficient stimulus to drive adaptation in the form of strength and power development. This is an awesome phenomenon to take advantage of because training with body weight does not require much in the way of specialized equipment. Because you don’t need a lot of equipment to induce a training effect, workouts can take place on the field, in the gym, or at the local park.
The following is a list of movements that can be progressed or regressed based on ability level to develop strength and power using bodyweight alone with minimal equipment.
2- Focus on Movement Fundamentals
Young athletes are blank(er) slates for acquiring movement skills. As the saying goes, “it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks”. However, the opposite is also true because kids have not yet fully engrained movement patterns through millions of repetitions. As a result, with proper coaching, they are able to make adjustments to the skills of sprinting, jumping, landing, and moving laterally. If you can teach them to move well at a young age, these efficient movement patterns will stick with them for a lifetime.
3- Employ Basic Plyometric Progressions
By definition plyometrics are nothing more than training to enhance landing and re-bounding capabilities. Landing and re-bounding are crucial elements of lateral movement, sprinting, and jumping; three key characteristics of athleticism. Again, using body weight and very minimal equipment, we can teach young athletes the following skills by progressing and regressing exercises for each type of plyometric action.
- Jumping – taking off on two feet and landing on two feet
- Hopping – taking off on one foot and landing on the same foot
- Bounding – taking off on one foot and landing on the opposite foot
4- Teach Core Control
Core is, of course, a really popular term in the fitness industry today. Any “Soccer Mom” can tell you that their kid needs a strong core in order to play at a high level without getting injured. However, the definition of “core” is often fleeting. Is it just another words for abs? Does the core include the lower back? What about the glutes? For the sake of this conversation, let’s define the core more broadly to include all the musculature involved in the system that’s primary role is to stabilize the lumbar vertebrae and pelvis so that force can be successfully transmitted between the lower and upper body. It is essentially a bridge between the two. Like with any good bridge, swaying to and fro is mostly undesirable.
For this reason, it makes sense to focus our core training plan on exercises that develop the ability of the core to maintain stability in the presence of progressive increases in instability. Bottom line, we don’t need to do a bunch of crunches and sit ups to “feel the burn”, but instead need to perform exercises that develop the ability to resist unwanted movement. The best way to do this with young athletes and minimal equipment is by progressing and regressing the different types of planking variations. Below is a video of a Plank with “T” that represents a relatively advanced plank progression which incorporates a(n) (anti)rotational challenge.
5- Flexibility is a Skill
Have you ever noticed how inflexible kids can be at certain stages in their physiologic development? The reason for this is that as the skeletal system grows, the muscular system does not always keep pace. It can take time for muscle tissue to catch up. Don’t worry, as bad as that sounds, it’s not the end of the world and there are some things you can do to help close the gap and ensure major imbalances do not persist.
That being said, flexibility training is not limited to standing in place, holding particular poses for 30 seconds each. In fact this can get boring really quickly, especially at the youth level. You’ve got to integrate static stretching in short doses and make sure to add active and dynamic stretches. By incorporating flexibility training from all these categories, you’ll create a more diverse movement portfolio, increasing real world range of motion in functional locomotor activities without boring kids to tears.
6- Make it Fun
Last but not least, the most important thing to remember when working with young student-athletes is to sprinkle in the fun factor at every turn. Whether you’re warming up, doing push ups, running drills, planks, or plyos, do it all with a smile. That doesn’t mean you have to turn every session into free play. But you do need to look for ways to make your training enjoyable. That can be as simple as smiling more, learning about each kid and what makes them laugh, engaging the things that are important to them, and “game-ifying” drills to make them more fun. When training is fun, kids will want to do it more, when they want to do it more, they’ll work harder and more often and as a result, make more progress.
Thanks for coming to the site and reading. I hope you’ve found something helpful that you can take and apply. As always, I love to help answer questions, so do not hesitate to leave a comment below or hit me up via email at [email protected]
To Your Success,
Noel Piepgrass, MA, CSCS, CiSSN