By Julie Gooderick (MSc, Bsc Hons, ASCC)
DO Training would like to introduce you to a very talented, skilled and intelligent coach Julie Gooderick. In the first, of what will be many articles posted by Julie she looks at coaching the youth athlete. As always read, like, share and tweet.
Youth athletes are very different to adult athletes and as such, should be trained very differently. There are many considerations to be taken into account when planning physical training for youth athletes; these can be broken down into physical and psychological considerations. Across both these areas lies the concept of professional habits, all of which will be discussed below.
If you are planning of working with youth or developmental athletes, familiarise yourself with the Long Term Athlete Development Model (LTAD).
This provides a guide to focus areas for each stage of development, as well as demonstrating the concept of building of broad foundations, narrowing to more specialised work. This article will highlight a few key principles to consider when coaching youth or developmental athletes.
There are certain times within a child’s development that allows for accelerated gains in certain physical areas, due to the growth and maturation of certain parts of the body. The 5 main stages of LTAD are considered in the table below.
OPTIMAL WINDOW OF TRAINABILITY
|FUNdamentals||Females – 6-8 yearsMales – 6-9 years||
(Central nervous system development)
|Learning to Train||Females – 8-11 yearsMales – 9-12 years||
(Accelerated cognitive development)
|Training to Train(onset of peak height velocity (PHV))||Females – 11-12 yearsMales – 12-16 years||
|Training to compete||Females – 15-21 years (+/-)Males – 16-23 (+/-)||
(maturation of most body systems)
|Training to Win||Females – 21 +Males – 23 +||
Always consider that children develop and mature at very different rates. The ages suggested on the above framework are not relevant in cases of early maturation or late development. Instead use the markers of puberty to determine your programming, and to determine where your athlete should be in their development.
Take weekly height and body mass measurements and look for times when growth appears to be increasing at a greater rate. Normal growth is around 3-4cm per year. Be aware of what is “normal” growth for your athlete at the end of each month. Once you see this monthly growth increase, you can give an educated guess that your athlete is starting PHV, in addition to the physical changes you can see.
Things to be aware of with your programming
Never be in a hurry to rush your athlete physically. Despite what certain technical coaches may be telling you, with youth athletes you have the luxury of time. With the exception of a couple of very early specialisation sports (gymnastics-based sports), you have plenty of time to build your athlete a broad athletic base. Developing your athletes physical literacy in aspects such as throwing, catching, balancing, running, skipping and so on, will ensure you are building solid foundations for which more specialised training can be build upon post puberty and into the young adult years.
“You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe”.
So why would you ask youth athletes to complete high velocity, high force actions without first building a solid athletic base? Allow time to develop the athletes’ motor control in a variety of movements, as well as postural control and body awareness.
There Are Always Exceptions To The Rules
The above training stages and times of accelerated development provide a framework only, and should not be blindly used by coaches without consideration of the individual athlete. I have worked with athletes who I have had since the age of 5, and have incredible physical attributes by the age of 12. What they will be working on age 16 will be profoundly different to what a 16 year old with no training experience will be doing. Similarly, a post-puberty 13 year old will have very different needs to a pre-puberty 13 year old.
Always carry out a thorough needs analysis of each individual athlete, and remember there will always be exceptions to the general rules.
Growth In Itself Is A Stressor
During PHV, an athletes’ body goes through substantial physical changes, including a growth spurt of around 10-12cm within a year (females). This process requires energy and can sometimes take away from the energy they can put into their training. Although generally, athletes can tolerate greater training volume as they go through PHV, be mindful of recovery times within an athletes’ programme as they go through PHV.
As previously mentioned, the accelerated growth during this time often causes the athlete a loss of co-ordination, balance and subsequently skills. Schedule in some lower intensity sessions focusing on these areas within an athletes’ plans.
Children Are Not Mini Adults
A common mistake coaches make is to try and impose adult training models on developmental athletes. This does not work. They do not have the physical nor mental foundations required to complete most “adult” training programmes.
Additionally, if you are trying to impose adult training models on youth athletes, you are most likely neglecting their physical literacy and athletic development. Adult training is also often repetitive in nature, requiring multiple sets of the same exercise in order to achieve adaptation. Although you are coaching a youth athlete, remember that they are a child. They get bored. Trying to get them to repeat a single exercise for 10 reps, 4 sets with a rest period in between is not going to end too well.
Professional habits basically means “living like an athlete”. There is an education process for the young athlete about aspects such as nutrition, sleep, hydration, strictly following a programme and so on. These professional habits enhance all areas of development. As a coach, address professional habits, and you are giving your young athlete a good chance to succeed and have independence and longevity in whatever they are pursuing. For a more in depth discussion of professional habits read one of my articles published at nutrifaqs here
Unfortunately, many sports still pressurise coaches to produce results NOW, and fail to look at a long term athletic view. That in turn means more pressure on you, as the strength and conditioning coach, to hurry your athlete’s development.
Do not fall into this trap. There will always be areas you can compromise, but ultimately it is a process of education to technical coaches, parents and athletes themselves as to the importance of a long term view- failure to do so will likely result in athletes not fulfilling their genetic potential. Hopefully with schemes now in motion to put physical literacy components into the national PE curriculum, we will produce more solid athletes with longevity, who can not only win at U11s, but can win on the biggest sporting stage possible.