A Better Way to Train Youth Athletes
When we look at youth athletes today there are a number of emerging trends that catch the attention of anyone interested in youth sports and youth athletes. We are seeing earlier specialization (focusing on just one sport at a much earlier age than previously, coinciding with an earlier focus on winning as the end goal rather than athlete development), increased injury rates (particularly of major musculoskeletal injuries like ACL tears), higher rates of abandoning sports altogether as they get older, and less opportunities for movement and athletic development outside of organized training. This, combined with the fact that only 35% of coaches are trained in core competencies of their sport, and only 36% in safety and injury prevention, means that youth athletes are at incredibly high risk for early injuries and burnout. Keeping all of this in mind we are going to examine what we believe is a better way of training and can lead to more resilient youth athletes and athletes who feel in control of their athletic journey.
In the pyramid above our base, our foundation, is not at all sport specific but instead is focused on basic coordination, body awareness (proprioception), and mobility. Having that broad and solid foundation will allow us to reach higher (and safer and more sustainable) levels of performance in more sport specific skills and tactical development. Having been a youth soccer coach for 10+ years I know that a typical athlete spends the majority of their training time at the higher end of this pyramid, limiting their potential and increasing their chance of injury.
When an athlete comes into Mountain Lab they first go through an assessment where we look at their athletic foundation: coordination and body awareness, work capacity, and general strength and athleticism. This allows us to see where the focus needs to be for their training program and to then develop that program for them, building from the foundation up, rather than the top down. If an athlete struggles to maintain balance in a single leg squat then moving them on to back squats and olympic lifts just doesn’t make much sense.
When we look at the demands of sport, there are a few common threads. All sports require repetitive movements, which place a unique demand on the body and an athletes training, particularly youth, needs to focus on making sure tissues and joints are properly prepared. This helps guard against overuse issues, as many injuries are the result of too much repetition before tissues are ready. The ability to create and maintain tension throughout your body is another skill that all athletes need to be able to do. Being able to do this improves your ability to absorb force and be explosive, which is crucial to to most sports. A training program that focuses on getting the athlete and their body ready for the demands of their sport, rather than just training in their sport will result in an athlete being able to handle the demands of their sport and excel and progress, not just survive, during their season.