No matter what Johnny’s dad thinks, he is not a small adult. This is a significant hurdle each youth coach must understand and overcome before doing anything beyond general playground effort level activity “training”. Because of Johnny is not a small adult, he must be treated differently as several factors need to be taken into account for reduced injury risk and future performance development.
Prepubescent youth should have the goal of fitness education placed far a head of physical development. Techniques and progression taught appropriately can build a foundation for reduced risk of injury and even enhanced future performance gains. A coach who understands these principles will be providing a far greater service to the physical and mental well being of a young athlete than the sole concentration on immediate performance improvements and team wins.
Dynamic Stretch & Warm Up:
The dynamic stretch & warm up provides many benefits to athletes of any age. Increased working muscle blood flow prepares the muscle group for more strenuous work loads. This portion of the warm up period generally last 5-10 minutes and precedes any form of activity that may occur anywhere near peak power/strength efforts.
The dynamic stretch as part of warm up is distinctively different than “static” stretching. Static stretching is done at the end of an activity and is done with the purpose of elongating muscle and connective tissue for greater range of motion around a joint.
Dynamic stretching is done within the normal range of motion with a goal of increasing blood flow and temperature of the moving muscles and connective tissue. It best ensures that the body is prepared to go through activities of greater demand, and does not negatively impact strength or power production.
Strength & Conditioning:
For the young athlete there are several factors that cause them to be ill prepared to achieve significant gains in strength & conditioning. Those factors include elements of kinesiology such as differing growth rates of various pieces of connective tissue and hormonal quantities that are insufficient for significant improvements.
Another aspect for the sport coach or strength coach to consider is the mental and emotional development of the young athlete. Adolescent immaturity in these areas may not only lead to compliance failures in program design, but also safety issues during moments of non directly supervised activity.
Strength & Conditioning for the prepubescent athlete should include general fitness elements that affect the entire body. Intensity levels of these strength activities should remain at or below 75% of a perceived 1 rep max (ie repetitions 10 or greater). Supervision and program focus should be built around core strength, joint stability, and exercise technique. Deceleration mechanics are also needed coaching elements for the athletic foundation and appear to be even more essential in female athletes in the prevention of ACL injury issues.
Movement screening is an effective method for determining athletic foundational needs that may be addressed through supervised programs design. It will also highlight potential risks for future injury and performance plateau, which may also be addressed through proper program design.
Coaches working with young athletes have a great responsibility. The physical expectations of the child, their parents, and even the coach themselves must be tempered with a dose of reality and a view point focused on the future. To provide the greatest potential for safe injury free activity and future peak performance, youth coaches should concentrate on core strength & stability (functionality) and correct exercise & movement techniques.
Parents and coaches should consult a strength & conditioning specialist or other qualified professional prior to progressing programs to advanced levels, working at intensities beyond 75% of maximum, utilizing overhead or Olympic styled power programs or plyometrics. Consult a physician at least every two years or per significant change to ensure the young athlete is prepared for sport or exercise programming.
By Tom Bomar, CSCS