Preparing Kids for Long Term Success
Jim McKee, MS, CSCS, SPS
Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for CES
“The closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.” –from Outliers: The Story of Success by Macolm Gladwell
In today’s ultra competitive sports world, this statement couldn’t be more true. As more and more young children strive to fulfill dreams of college scholarships, getting drafted and having a shot at their respective “big show”, performance training has gradually become a very regular part of the standard preparation. In some sports this training may begin as young as 5 years old. At Competitive Edge Skating, Inc. (CES) we have had hockey players as young as 9 years old begin off-ice programs. What was once believed to be unsafe and unnecessary for many young athletes is slowly becoming the norm. Simply put, athletes are starting much earlier and are getting opportunities because of it.
With this mind, it is important to approach any performance training with a long term oriented goal. As many people whom I’ve met, trained or have read some of my past newsletters already know, I am a firm believer in training SMARTER before we train harder. This holds especially true in the case of youth athletes, in which they will be training or starting to train through different developmental stages. It is at these stages where the emphasis needs to be shifted to enhance the areas that will benefit the most from specific types of training.
It is obvious that children go through a lot of physical changes up to about 18 years old. With this in mind, it is important to understand what happens at these changes. There will be times in which a child may not grow much physically but his central nervous system (CNS) is very impressionable (8 -12 years old). During growth spurts, the legs and arms of a child will grow at a faster rate than the torso (10-14 years old). Through puberty, male athletes will undergo a huge increase in testosterone production, a hormone that can have significant influence on muscular and nervous system advancements. There are actually times in which a child’s conditioning will not respond significantly to aerobic training, which is typically due to fast increases in bodyweight. We must consider what is going to help the athlete the most right now in a way that will translate to bigger gains down the road.
The following list provides some simple guidelines and brief explanations of when and what type of training should be emphasized.
Sport Related Movement Skills (Sprinting, Shuffling, Throwing, Skating, Changing Directions, Jumping)
– Begin teaching these skills between ages 8-12.
– Growth may be relatively slow, but the CNS is capable of learning very well at this age.
– Speed development is also very reliant on CNS growth and should be addressed here once the skills are learned.
– Around ages 11-13 (Girls) and 14-16 (Boys), large growth spurts often happen. This is another time in which the focus of training should be on speed, technique and sport skills.
– These skills should be worked on by athletes at ALL levels but it is at these ages where the training may have the greatest impact on future development.
Strength Training (High intensity resistance training and weight lifting)
– ALL weight training needs to begin with mastering proper technique. For boys this can begin around 11-13 years old and for girls around 10-11.
– Stay focused on technique through growth spurts. Most athletes won’t be able to handle heavy weight safely with fast growing arms and legs.
– For boys, the most sensitive time to increase strength will likely be 12-18 months AFTER their height growth begins to taper off. Girls will be most sensitive to strength training as they BEGIN to go through their fastest growth spurt (11-13 usually). Good technique should predominate as they grow rapidly.
– When athletes are growing fast, it can be tough to maximize conditioning. Focus more on efficient movement that uses less energy (proper movement technique, weightlifting technique).
– During growth spurts, address endurance development with short high intensity sprint-type drills. Long distance fitness is not very adaptable here.
– Once growth has begun to taper off and strength has been maximized, begin to emphasize conditioning more with sport related drills and intervals.
This is not to say that certain areas should be entirely neglected through phases of growth but rather accept the reality that big improvements are not likely to happen in these areas. A well rounded program for any age will enhance speed, coordination, agility, strength and conditioning. It simply will adjust the focus of these areas to help the athlete where he or she needs it the most and will respond the best. Always consider that age is simply a number as well. Some children may develop exceptionally early while others may take more time than their peers. Once again, train smarter before we train harder and strive towards long term development. Real results will always take time.
Note: Much of the information in this blog is credited to Ed McNeely, MS, who put together a phenomenal presentation on Long-term Planning for the Master’s Athlete at the Arnold Strength and Fitness Trainers Summit in Columbus, OH on March 5, 2011.