Youth, parents, and the education system 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 are gone. What is left are 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. If a study were to be performed in 2012, one might assume that the study might factor in sports such as Lacrosse, Ice Hockey, or Martial Arts. If these sports were accounted for during the study we may have paid witness to an even greater increase in injuries. These numbers do not reflect a change in the sport itself, but rather a change in the youth whom are participating.
As doomed as it sounds, there is hope for youth. All youth should be involved in resistance training by an educated coach. Here are “musts” when developing a program that trains youth.
Must make it fun
Youth who participate in training programs (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 participate 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 training.
A youth training program should focus on core, strength, power, form, sprint technique, and many others. However, the program and/or training session must be presented through a fun atmosphere. During youth training sessions the strength and conditioning coach should integrate obstacle courses and/or relay races. These activities should incorporate movements and exercises that were performed and learned during the workout. The most successful youth program places its focus on drills / exercises that emphasize proper technique during all movements. However, after coaching up the technique, youth must be allowed to practice what they have learned at full speed (i.e. competitions).
Must Incorporate injury prevention training
Youth training must incorporate movements that utilize proprioception. Proprioception training involves placing persons in an environment that is stable yet unstable. Examples include bosu balance trainers, core trainers, airex pads, single leg exercises, and many others… These exercises require a high degree of core stability and ligament / tendon strength, which make them similar to all athletic movements.
Injury prevention training, or pre-hab, should involve movements or non-movements that place emphasis on core stabilization, as well as ligament and tendon activation (i.e. proprioception). The eccentric portion of all movements, 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 recruits the greatest amount of muscle. To ensure proper eccentric motion, require youth to control their downward portion of all movements (step ups, squats, lunges, etc…).
Must select core Movements
Any resistance training program should select core movements that it places emphasis on. Youth resistance training programs should do the same. Squats, pushups, pull ups, lunges, sprint techniques, and various other movements should be considered fundamental – core movements for all programs. Each training session should incorporate some of the programs core movements. All core movements should be prescribed every couple of weeks to allow for increased repetition.
Repetition and coaching of these core movements will allow for neurological adaptation. Neurological adaptation leads to injury prevention and increased athletic performance. Performance enhancement will build the confidence of the youth involved. On the contrary, constantly introducing new exercises will limit the young athlete’s chance of mastering the movements. This can lead to discouragement and failure. Although it is important for youth to experience failure, this form of failure is not advantageous.
Must vary the program
Strength and conditioning programs should focus on its core movements first and foremost; however, variation within a program is a must. Variation comes through alterations within the routine, the exercises, the volume, the load, and/or the 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. Body weight and core (midsection) movements create a platform for development and increased volume training. These are all examples of how variables can be adjusted in order to create a platform for unpredictability to keep youth engaged in the strength and conditioning program.
When strength and conditioning programs are monotonous, youth become uninterested. Constantly altering the variables of each training session, along with occasionally introducing new movements, will keep young athletes more engaged within the program.
All jumping and plyometrics should be limited and performed using functional movements… jumping rope, skipping, hopping, and two leg forward box jumps are all considered preparatory plyometrics / exercises. These exercises should be incorporated into the strength and conditioning program once the youth involved have shown base levels of strength. Squatting is the best indicator of whether or not youth are ready for preparatory plyometrics. If a young athlete cannot squat properly, then that athlete should not perform any impact jumping.
Young athletes must be gradually introduced to preparatory plyometrics during each training cycle.
However, preparatory plyometrics may not even be suitable for youth until the fourth or sixth week. Each phase should have specific focuses and set goals. Phase one, learning proper sprint, squat, push up, and lunge techniques. Phase two, an introduction into more complex movements, as well as adding external stimulus by way of medicine balls, bands, suspension training, or light barbells and dumbbells. Each phase from here on may incorporate exercises with greater technical requirements. These phases must be written as the program continues to account for the young athlete’s ability to perform specific movements.
Proceed with caution
Young athletes are not mini-adults. Creating a specific sport program for youth is not recommended. Young athletes must train to become greater athletes and not basketball players. Once youngsters have shown significant improvement in sprint form, squat form, core strength, coordination and various other movements, then sport specific training might be included. Lastly, training youth during times of growth spurts must be taken with extreme caution. During growth spurts the growth plates are left open and vulnerable. Youth are extremely susceptible to fractures at this time. It is my recommendation that during times of heavy growth spurts the strength and conditioning coach limit the amount of plyometrics performed.
Youth training should be considered mandatory. Having helped rehabilitate numerous youngsters with major knee injuries, the time for action is now. Athletic Performance programs for youth that incorporate these “musts” should be implemented to every school and youth sports program.