Last Updated on August 11, 2023 by Andrew Pirie
Table of Contents
Youth development working with young athletes
This collection of posts is a continuation of our previous collection of posts on Talent Identification, a nearly 5000-word long post; please check it out.
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Words of Advice to young athletes
Words of Advice to young athletes
A friend of mine published this article; he is a Level 3 IAAF Coach with a wealth of experience training athletes in several countries.
If you are a budding young athlete, you need to realize some aspects of the sport, and the sooner you accept this, the better your chance of being an elite athlete.
I have had the opportunity to work with and see some of the best athletes and coaches worldwide.
I have had the unique pleasure to see firsthand how World, Olympic, Commonwealth, and National athletes train.
The thing that sets them apart is reality.
The reality is, you WON”T perform a Personal Best every time you step onto the track, you WON’t win every event; it’s impossible, and you WON”T have an excuse.
For instance, most athletes fail because they expect that far outweighs their efforts. In conclusion, that means that your effort in training, diet, rehab, etc., all plays a part in the result.
Most times, athletes get to training, and although they are there physically, their minds are far from focused.
What is your goal at training?
- Is it to get the session over and done with ASAP?
- Is it to find out what the session is and figure out how you can get through it with the least amount of hurting?
- Or is it to perform everything to the best of your ability so that you get the most out of
- EVERY single session you do?
On average, the Elite athletes of the world do around 500 sessions a year,
How many do you do?
(The Most time a season is around 40 -45 weeks in duration from General Prep to Champs)
For instance, if you’re doing 2- 3 sessions a week, you’re around 80-120 sessions, so about 20-25% of the Elite.
However, if they don’t expect to come out and perform PBs every time, Why do you? When you at a quarter of what they do.
Now, if you’re a junior, this number is fine in your development stage, but your focus and dedication can still be better. This is REALITY.
Here is a little maths to realize how much you can achieve even with the slightest focus.
Let us say for argument’s sake that if you made an effort to pay attention to detail in your sessions, and let’s say that every session you did, that meant that you would make the slightest improvement like 1/1000th of a second.
That means you would make a possible .08 to.12 of a second improvement if you’re a junior.
In other words, not bad for around 2-3 sessions per week. If you were a senior athlete, well, that becomes somewhat of a huge possible gain.
In competition, when the pressure is on, what happens?
Some people say they rise to the occasion.
However, I think that is false. I believe that one reverts to the habits they have created in training.
You can only perform to the level you have trained.
It is like building a VW car, thinking that it will somehow improve and rise to match a dragster if you take it to the drag races.
Come on, are you serious???
Above all, understand that you will not get to your goal easily; you WILL encounter tough times.
You WILL have detractors that may not give you the recognition you deserve.
But you WILL overcome that if you have the WILL to be the best you can be at every single training session you do.
Your success lies in your hands, not in anyone else; you see, the habits and mindset you place on yourself determine your destination in this sport.
Coaches, parents, medical support, and others are merely vehicles to help you get to your destination.
The map is the creation of your habits and mindset.
In conclusion, my question is to that budding athletes,
How to Avoid Athlete Burnout
The increasingly competitive nature of youth sports can result in athlete burnout. Previously associated with exhausted and disillusioned adults with their jobs, burnout has now spread from offices to youth sports courts, fields, and rinks everywhere.
In addition, ongoing work by researchers like East Carolina University’s Dr. Thomas D. Raedeke reveals the real causes of burnout in youth athletes and how and can prevent it.
Why Youth Athletes Experience Burnout
In conclusion, burnout is, in part, a reaction to chronic stress. However, according to Dr. Raedeke, stress can come from overtraining but also from external sources.
It can directly stem from parents who pressure their child or subtly from family life that revolves around the sport.
It can also result from negative coaching behaviors.
Some athletes also have internal personality characteristics, like an innate sense of perfectionism, making them vulnerable to burnout. But stress is only part of the story.
“Not only might burnout-prone athletes begin to realize sports success is not as meaningful as they once thought, the athletes might also believe success ultimately is not possible because skill improvements are inevitably linked to increased expectation and standards,” says Dr. Raedeke.
“As a result, they may realize they can never be good enough and that they are chasing an impossible goal.”
A lack of independence or feeling like they have no say in matters can also play a role.
When I was in primary school, I was into several sports but never seemed to excel at one.
I was just kind of average at all of them. But then there were kids I can remember that were great runners or great swimmers etc.
One guy would consistently win all running events from the cross-country down to the 100 meters.
This led me to research the reasons behind this type of versatility. It turns out that he was simply bio-mechanically effective at running.
He had a good stride, perfect posture, rhythmic breathing, long legs, etc. But, of course, some of these things were simply a result of his being interested in running.
So why is it that if a sprinter goes jogging, he will lose his speed and power in time, but not as much will change?
However, It’s due to muscle plasticity. Above all, muscles are adaptable and pliable throughout life, more so in children, rather than the commonly held notion of three distinct fiber types. For instance, it is more like a sliding scale from aerobic/oxidative to glycolytic and everything in between.
However, Children’s muscles respond to any stimulus, and their bodies are sensitive to most stressors.
This is why a great middle-distance runner at school might also be a great sprinter or long-distance cyclist.
Taking the above into account, this also means that the muscles in the pre-teens are easily adaptable.
If a child rides their bike for 90 minutes continuously every day, they will adapt to the long-duration activity.
There will be a higher percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers over time.
As the athlete ages, the muscle fibers and other factors begin to lose elasticity. Therefore, when they reach, full maturity muscle fiber types are not easily manipulated.
A young athlete should first be established as being interested in sports
A young athlete should first be established as being interested in sports. It is also important to let them make their own choice.
This will provide a lot of information down the track for future athletic talent identification.
Once they are playing sports, they should be encouraged and nurtured to engage in various activities.
This helps to see where a person naturally excels.
This is also the method used by Eastern bloc countries.
In addition, they simply let kids go off and play whatever sport they wish.
The scouts, parents, etc., begin to narrow down the selection of sports over time, steering them into a group of sports where they naturally excel.
However, by about age 13, the athlete is ready to get specific and begin training for a certain sport.
At this stage, athletic talent identification has been largely completed. However, it’s not hard to determine where a person is likely to be a champion when they have been primarily competing in events related to endurance, for instance.
At this stage, and can then train the athlete more specifically for their chosen sport because they have been steered, encouraged, and interested in certain sports and activities, most likely of a similar or related nature.
Long-Term Strength Development and Progression of Strength Training Developing young athletes
Youth Development Source:
Bompa T. and Buzzichelli C., Periodization Training for Sports – 3rd Edition, Human Kinetics, 2015
Coaching Youth Track and Field – Youth Development
This book was provided by my former PSC Commissioner, Jolly Gomez. To help assist me in training the young sprinters in the province of Zamboanga Del Sur in Mindanao.
Noted in book: To Andrew,
You are helping young kids realize their potential and their dreams! – Jolly Gomez
However, the most interesting part I found was speed endurance for sprinters stating young sprinters should not do more than 500m (beginner), 700m (intermediate), and 900m (advanced).
For instance, I often see too many local coaches emphasizing more than this, leading to early burnout and fatigue.
However, the important thing to remember is to speed endurance should be done with good form and technique and enough rest not to compromise this good running form.
And should also do it at 90%. Too often, we see sprinters doing almost 2000m worth of sprints in a session at 80%.
This book is a must-have and very easy to understand. It’s a lot more interesting, logical, practical, structured, and better explained than the IAAF’s Kids Athletics Program.
Developing young athletes REVIEW:
Coaching Youth Track & Field stresses fun, safety, and effective instruction. In helping you create an environment that promotes learning, encourages a love of the sport, and motivates your athletes to come out year after year.
Numerous coaching books present the skills, drills, and activities of track and field.
However, here’s a book that teaches you to convey those skills to your athletes engagingly and positively.
Written by the American Sports Education Program (ASAP) in conjunction with Matt Lydum and other experts from Hershey’s Track & Field Games and USA Track & Field (USATF), Coaching Youth Track & Field is the only resource available today aimed at coaches of athletes ages 14 and under.
Training Children’s Athletics – Developing young athletes Grass Roots and Grass Training
One of the fun parts of the job, at Zamboanga Del Sur, is watching the progress and teaching elementary-age athletes.
For instance, Grass Training, in particular, is one session we do. In Manila, I noticed coaches’ obsession with training on rubberized ovals due to the lack of grass areas in many places.
This trend started to spread into the provinces.
Where obsession with having a rubberized oval became rampant, however, grass training plays an important role.
Just like the Jamaicans who predominantly train on grass.
We have conducted grass training for our elementary kids.
And took these photos back in late November, Early December.
And since then, the kids pictured have made very rapid progress.
The Girl in Pink Jeralden from Kumularang is in Grade 4, and since these photos have been taken has improved her times in the 100m from 16.4 to 14.8, and 200m from 36 to 32.8 within the 2 months she has come to the academy.
Elementary Aged Kids
The kids pictured here are Elementary age kids. Therefore A lot of them are from quite low-income families from around the municipalities of Zamboanga Del Sur.
The province of Del Sur has around a population of 1 million people.
The Sports Academy is the program of Governor Antonio H. Cerriles. However, Zamboanga Sports Academy is the only Academy in the country that is entirely local government-funded.
For instance, we do have a large blue rubberized oval about 20-30 meters away. But part of our recovery training allows the kids to train barefoot on the grass to strengthen important muscles in the legs.
Exercises include drills and short sprints on the grass, as well as low-level plyometrics.
Coach Ernie helping the kids stretch using AIMS Method. Olongapo Speed Clinic. Developing young athletes.
‘5 KEYS TO TRAINING YOUTH ATHLETES
Youth athletes tend to have poor posture because they are not physically developed.
You want to train your young athlete to stay tall without too much unnecessary movement.
You’ll often see too much rotating of the shoulders and torso with sloped shoulders.
Youth athletes tend to “pound the ground,” and the challenge is to train them to be light on their feet.
Do this by instructing your athlete to pull their toe up after each contact.
This also puts their chin angles in a proper position.
However, knee drive is a vital aspect of sprinting for any age, and it is essential to teach this technique early so that your youth can build upon it.
The knee will come up when the heel comes up and cycles through.
Heel recovery is important because it keeps your foot contact light and brings your knee up into the proper position.
However, mini hurdle training develops heel recovery as it provides an obstacle to step over. For instance, Place 10 mini hurdles at a 3-foot spacing to train at a higher speed.
However, young athletes tend to let their arms swing out of control. In other words, the most important point of proper sprinting technique regarding the arms is keeping a 90-degree bend at the elbows.
For instance, it is important to keep your arms swinging at the side and not in front.
Therefore the sooner you can implement proper running techniques. The further along your youth’s athletic development will be in the training process.
In conclusion, this will serve as a great advantage in their athletic career.
Continued in: Is Speed Training Appropriate for Young Athletes
Is teen speed training appropriate?
Is teen speed training appropriate for adolescents? (Part I)
Brian Grasso considers the benefits of speed training for young athletes.
You see promotional material everywhere, from sporting-based magazines to television and radio commercials.
Teen SPEED TRAINING! Speed… an elusive commodity that all successful athletes require.
But how should teen speed training be approached?
A key element to consider when working with teenage athletes is the degree of growth they are currently experiencing.
A growth spurt occurs when bones elongate from the proximal and distal ends. Osteoblastic activity occurs, which makes the bone both longer and eventually stronger.
Needing attention during this time is the impact bone growth has on the muscular system as the bone grows significantly faster than muscle.
The implications of this are that during and shortly after a growth spurt, the entire muscular system is placed under a great deal of strain (which typically accounts for why adolescents incurring growth are often sore).
Picture this from a practical perspective. Make a fist with both hands, but stick your first fingers out.
Hook an elastic band around both your left and right outstretched fingers.
Teen speed training. Now slowly pull your hands apart from each other. What happened to the elastic?
It was stretched and toned. Muscles grow when the bone does.
Tone increases while elasticity decreases.
Adolescents struggle with awkward mobility.
Like muscular tone, bone growth outpaces the body’s ability to adjust to the new length.
Our habits—from thought patterns to movement—are stored as “facts” in brain pathways.
Changing these routes is hard.
Everyone has habits.
Brushing your teeth is an example.
You probably have a “set” technique for brushing your teeth, whether it’s starting on one side or using a certain pattern.
Try brushing differently next time.
Start on the opposite side, uncap the toothpaste, and try something new.
If you think about “change,” you can do it. After this article’s challenge is over, you’ll clean your teeth again without thinking.
Before bed or first thing in the morning. It will be mindless again.
What will happen then?
You will revert to performing it the way you always have. Simply put, it is an ingrained pathway in your brain.
When youngsters experience growth, they can explain their awkwardness simply because their bodies are now longer and denser than their brains remember them to be.
You try taping a six-inch extension of wood to the end of each of your arms and see how much stuff you bang into!
Kids going through growth are awkward for a reason: the central nervous system, which is responsible for all movement, no longer has a grasp of where the body is about peripheral objects and itself.
So, you have a growing athlete who is 14 years old.
How often have you seen or heard those ‘qualified’ fitness professionals state that this is the age at which young athletes should start training hard for speed, power, and hypertrophy?
Load up the weights (or better yet, put them on strength machines where they will be ‘safe’), start counting out the plyometric drills, and let’s get this kid onto the high-speed treadmill for some speed/anaerobic conditioning!
High-performance sports teen speed training, here we come!
Give me a break
You have an ungainly athlete that lacks optimal coordination and boasts a severely toned (and possibly restricted) muscular system.
Adding speed, power, and hypertrophy training right now could not only be less than optimal from a developmental perspective but also potentially dangerous.
Having said that, step into any ‘sports training’ facility right now, and you will see young athletes pounding out set after set of sprints on the treadmill and rep after rep of jumping drills.
You will often find that the same ‘certified’ trainer is doing little more than delivering encouragement and calculating the number of ‘back and forth’ leaps an athlete accomplished inside a 30-second time window.
While there are various components and crucial points of programming for young athletes, one of the most disregarded is the technical aspects of both lifting and mobility.
Poor movers are poor athletes.
Yet rather than teach, correct, comprehend, and discuss the science of efficient movement with young athletes, many ‘certified’ professionals decide instead to count repetitions just.
Because demonstrating an athlete’s rep increase is tangible.
indicator of improvement, which can then convert into marketing to both the parents of the athletes (sign your 14-year-old up for another 6 weeks of training) and the market at large.
‘Before’ and ‘after’ in our society swallows up scenarios, and if the training facility can show folks that ‘junior’ will be able to run at 13 miles an hour on the treadmill rather than simply 10, then they are going to gain consumers.
Athlete development is overlooked.
What happens once the six weeks are over?
Are they stronger, fitter, or just better at the facility’s drills?
In Successful Coaching,
Young athletes should train like this.
- GRASSO, B. (2004) Is speed training appropriate for adolescents? (Part I) [WWW] Available from https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/scni11a3.htm [Accessed 2/1/2018]
Is speed training appropriate for adolescents? Part II
Brian Grasso reviews the impact of flexibility, strength, and speed training on young athletes and their coaches
In part one of my article (see Issue 11 of the Successful Coaching Newsletter (April 2004))
‘Is speed training appropriate for adolescents’ I discussed the concern of inappropriate power, strength, and hypertrophy training with pubescent athletes?
One of the main concerns I have regarding trainers working with our younger athletes is their lack of knowledge about the science of human development and how that translates into incorrect programming.
Understanding the basic fact that ‘hard work does not necessarily translate to ‘smart training’ is of the utmost significance.
Many sports training facilities and trainers pride themselves on harsh training sessions that leave young athletes fatigued.
I have no problem with young athletes exercising to exhaustion.
The difficulty, however, is that more often than not, the ‘hard work is just that… hard work.
The long-term athlete needs must guide training sessions.
Six-week training packages at three sessions per week (standard for sport training facilities) address nothing more than short-term fitness needs and NOT long-term athletic needs.
Remember, our young athletes should have long, successful athletic careers and become functionally fit and healthy adults. But, sadly, there is no short-term answer to that.
Specifically speaking, in part one of this post, I examined growth spurts and the interruptive nature of motor control (which directly affects sport-specific abilities), and the muscular system as a whole.
As a bone grows, its muscles are under severe tension.
Because bone grows quicker than muscle, the muscles are placed under a substantial tone as the bone lengthens.
Power requires muscular pliability, hence a toned muscle cannot be forceful.
Strength Power and Speed Training OH MY!
Strength, power, and speed training would immediately fail.
Moreover, and less-than-perfect results aside, there is also a danger for harm at this time.
Strength training enhances muscular tone. In growing sportsmen, the muscular system is already under a major tone.
The dynamic needs for power and speed training also become troublesome for expanding athletes.
A young athlete with a toned body and lacking coordination should not be conducting infinite repetitions of leaping or sprinting workouts.
Herein lies the distinction between ‘hard effort’ and ‘smart work.’ Hard work happens when trainers, often not familiar with growth and development, take young athletes through fitness-based conditioning sessions to increase the athlete’s fitness in a short period.
These sessions frequently involve machine-based strength training, plyometric drills, high-speed treadmill sprint drills, and basic ‘abdominal’ or ‘core’ work.
Smart work comprises developmental-based conditioning workouts to increase the athlete’s overall athleticism and developmental conditioning over a protracted period.
These sessions will often include bodyweight or technical elements of strength training, technical aspects of jump training, technical components, and developmental drills associated with speed training, and integrative strength work (designed to improve the synergistic and harmonious nature of the body working as a unit).
Young students cannot pass grade four in six weeks. To become good at anything often involves a dedicated effort spanning several years.
Why do we train young athletes hard for a short time?
Enough about what we should not be doing; let us move on to what young pubescent athletes should be doing.
Young athletes, in my experience, do not stretch enough. Static stretching has come under a lot of fire recently, having been labeled as ‘unnecessary.’
Unfortunately, it seems that the message has filtered its way down to our youngsters.
While I would not argue that static styles of flexibility are not important (perhaps even limiting) to a pre-game routine, static flexibility as a whole cannot be ruled out as important, especially in this age category.
Common sense should prevail; if the body is weak, then strengthen it and if it is tight, then stretch it.
Pubescent athletes, as we have already mentioned, are typically under significant tone due to growth.
Elongating those restricted muscles becomes important for both performance enhancement as well as injury prevention. Therefore, a 10 to the 20-minute routine of static flexibility should be a part of every young athlete’s daily habit.
Technical Aspects of Strength Training
It’s debatable. Power-based lifting (pushes, pulls, cleans) benefits all athletes.
Many specialists ignore power lifts as vital.
I disagree. Regardless of your opinion, all useful strength training exercises require some technique.
Depending on your technical ability and anatomy, squats might be beneficial or harmful.
However, how many trainers or sports training facilities carefully teach strength and power workout techniques?
That’s like the fourth-grade instructor ‘glancing over’ arithmetic for a couple of days and then expecting the children to grasp and do algebra later in their academic lives.
Lifts must be taught to be performed optimally and without the risk of damage. Teenagers are ideal lifters.
Slowly relearning basic movements can help them regain coordination. They are on tone owing to growth and should not be carrying too much burden.
Poor Running Form
Many teenage athletes struggle to transition from JV to Varsity or high school to college athletics due to poor running technique, including a “bobbing” head, eyes down, bent forward from the waist, and “winging” elbows.
However, how many trainers and sports facilities teach young players speed techniques?
I’m sorry. Six-week speed training programs need excessive high-speed treadmill work.
Instill good technique in young athletes.
Slow down and work on things at a slower pace until the athlete can perform well at a faster pace.
Building a great, injury-free athlete is like learning.
It takes time, demands healthy habits, and is based on a foundation of taught and polished skills and abilities.
Subpar six-week training programs are not the solution.
- GRASSO, B. (2004) Is speed training appropriate for adolescents? Part II [WWW] Available from https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/scni13a3.htm [Accessed 2/1/2018]
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