youth development

Last Updated on January 3, 2023 by Andrew Pirie

Youth development working with young athletes

 This collection of posts is a continuation of our previous collection of posts on Talent Identification, a near 5000-word long post; please check it out.

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Youth Development

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 outweigh their efforts. In conclusion, that means is 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 the 80-120 sessions, so about 20-25% of the Elite.

However, if they don’t expect to come out and perform PB’s 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 of focus.

Let us say for argument’s sake that if you really 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 athlete,

Where are YOU headed?

How to Avoid Athlete Burnout

Youth Development

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.


Youth Development

Youth Development

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 him 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 actually 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 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, the 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

Youth Development Source:

Bompa T. and Buzzichelli C., Periodization Training for Sports – 3rd Edition, Human Kinetics, 2015

Youth Development
Coaching Youth Track and Field useful resource book.

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 ‘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.

Buy a copy here

Training Children’s Athletics – Developing young athletes Grass Roots and Grass Training

One of the fun parts of the job, 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 which 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.

Youth Development
Coach Ernie helping the kids stretch using AIMS Method.

Coach Ernie helping the kids stretch using AIMS Method. Olongapo Speed Clinic. Developing young 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.

Foot Contact

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.

Knee Drive

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

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?

lteen speed training
developing young athletes


Is teen speed training appropriate for adolescents? (Part I)

Brian Grasso considers the benefits of speed training for young athletes.

You see the 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 got very stretched out and was placed under a significant tone. That is exactly what happens to your muscles when bone grows.

Elasticity is decreased while the tone is increased.

Another issue plaguing adolescents during growth is an awkward movement.

This is similar to the muscular tone issue; bone growth happens faster than the body’s ability to reorient itself to the new length.

From our thought patterns to the way we move, all of the habits we exhibit are housed as ‘facts’ in pathways programmed into the brain.

Once ingrained, these pathways are difficult to alter.

Everyone has habitual ways of performing tasks.

Brushing your teeth, as arbitrary as that sounds, is a perfect example.

You likely have a ‘set’ way of brushing your teeth, whether that means you always start on one side or always start with a particular brushing pattern; the fact is you have a ‘set’ method.

Now, next time you brush your teeth, actively try to perform it a ‘different way.

Start on the other side, uncap the toothpaste with your other hand; some way or another, just try something completely different.

As you think about the ‘change,’ you will most certainly be able to do it. In time, however, when the challenge of this article is no longer on the front of your mind, you will start brushing your teeth again without giving it a second thought.

The last thing you do before you crawl into bed, or the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning. Either way, it will return to being a mindless task.

What will happen then?

You will revert to perform 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 to 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!

teen speed training
teen speed training

High-performance sports teen speed training, here we come!


Give me a break

You have an awkward athlete who lacks optimal coordination and possesses a severely toned (and likely 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 harmful.

Having said that, walk 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 ‘qualified’ trainer is doing little more than offering encouragement and counting the number of ‘back and forth’ jumps an athlete did during a 30-second time frame.

While there are several factors and key points of programming for young athletes, one of the most overlooked is the technical aspects of both lifting and movement.

An athlete who does not move well and efficiently is an inferior athlete.

Yet rather than teach, correct, understand and discuss the science of efficient movement with young athletes, many ‘qualified’ experts opt instead to count repetitions merely.


Because showing an increase in the number of reps an athlete can perform is a tangible

sign of improvement, which can then translate 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’ our society eats 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 just 10, then they are going to get customers.

Lost in all of this is the long-term development of the athlete.

What happens after the six weeks are over?

Are they better athletes, more in shape, or merely more able to perform the particular drills that the facility takes them through?

In a future issue of Successful Coaching

I will discuss the type of training ventures that young athletes should be performing.


Is speed training appropriate for adolescents? Part II

Brian Grasso reviews the impact of flexibility, strength, and speed training for 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.

teen speed training riley day
Riley day a top Australian teen sprinter.


Smart Training

Understanding the simple fact that ‘hard work does not necessarily equate to ‘smart training’ is of the utmost importance.

Many sport training facilities and individual trainers pride themselves on providing tough training sessions that leave the young athlete feeling exhausted at the end.

Now, there is nothing wrong with working hard, and I certainly have no objections to young athletes training to the point of fatigue.

The problem, however, is that more often than not, the ‘hard work is just that… hard work.

Training sessions need to be developed with the long-term needs of the athlete squarely in focus.

Six-week training packages at three sessions per week (typical for sport training facilities) address nothing more than short-term fitness needs and NOT long-term athletic needs.

Remember, we want all of our young athletes to have long and successful athletic careers, with the eventual goal of becoming functionally fit and healthy adults. But, unfortunately, there is no short-term solution for that.

Specifically speaking, in part one of this article, I discussed growth spurts and the interruptive nature of motor control (which directly affects sport-specific ability) and the muscular system as a whole.

To recap, as the distal and proximal ends of a bone grow apart (during growth), the muscles acting on that bone are placed under extreme stress.

Because bone grows faster than muscle, the muscles are placed under a significant tone as the bone lengthens.

A toned muscle cannot be optimally powerful, considering that both strength and power require pliability at the muscular level to either exhibit or be improved optimally.


Strength Power and Speed Training OH MY!

That would automatically render strength training, power training, and speed training as endeavors destined to meet less than optimal results.

Moreover, and less than optimal results notwithstanding, there is also a real concern for injury at this point.

Strength training, for example, increases the tone of a muscle. In growing athletes, the muscular system is already under a significant tone.

The dynamic needs of power and speed training also become problematic with growing athletes.

A young athlete with a toned body and lacking coordination should not be performing endless repetitions of jumping or sprinting exercises.

Herein lies the difference between ‘hard work’ and ‘smart work.’ Hard work occurs when trainers, typically not familiar with growth and development, take young athletes through fitness-based conditioning sessions to improve the athlete’s fitness in a short period of time.

These sessions often include machine-based strength training, plyometric drills, high-speed treadmill sprint drills, and basic ‘abdominal’ or ‘core’ work.

Smart work involves developmental-based conditioning sessions to improve the athlete’s overall athleticism and developmental conditioning over a prolonged period of time.

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).

No one would expect a young student to pass grade four in six weeks. In fact, to become good in anything typically requires a concerted effort over several years.

Why, then, do we insist on training young athletes with hard work over a short period of time?

Enough about what we should not be doing; let us move on to what young pubescent athletes should be doing.


Static Flexibility

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 20 minute routine of static flexibility should be a part of every young athlete’s daily habit.

Technical Aspects of Strength Training

This particular topic has a degree of opinion attached to it. All athletes benefit from power-based lifting exercises (pushes, pulls, cleans, etc.).

Many professionals disregard power lifts as necessary.

I, obviously, disagree. However, irrespective of your opinion, the fact remains that all strength training exercises (at least useful strength training exercises) have a degree of technique attached to them.

Squats, for example, can be a very beneficial exercise or a very detrimental exercise depending entirely on your technical ability to perform them (technical ability, in this case, is considered in conjunction with the health and workability of your anatomy).

Having said that, how many trainers or sport training facilities take the time to critically teach the intricate techniques associated with performing strength and power exercises?

That can be likened to the fourth-grade teacher ‘glancing over’ the specifics of maths for a couple of days and then expecting the students to understand and perform the intricate aspects of algebra later in their academic careers.

Lifts must be taught to be performed optimally and without the risk of injury. Pubescent athletes are in a perfect time frame to be taught lifts.

They are on tone due to growth, so they should not be handling too much load anyway and are typically a little less than optimally coordinated; therefore, slowly re-learning basic movements will ease their transition back into solid coordination.

Technical Aspects of Speed Training The same argument resides in this aspect of training as in the above points.

To be optimally fast and powerful, a young athlete must have good technical ability.

Poor Running Form

The classically poor running technique (including a ‘bobbing’ head, eyes down, bent forward from the waist, ‘winging’ elbows) accounts for why many young athletes do not transition well from JV to Varsity athletics or high school to college athletics.

Having said that, how many trainers and sport training facilities impart the technical elements of speed to their young athletes?

Unfortunately, about my opening paragraph. We live in an age of six-week training packages that call for reckless amounts of high-speed treadmill work to ‘improve’ speed.

When working with young athletes, make them understand the importance of good technique.

Slow movements down and work on things at a decreased pace, eventually adding speed to movements until the athlete can exhibit high-quality form at an increased pace.

Building a superior and injury-free athlete should be likened to developing as a good student.

It takes a prolonged amount of time, requires learning and exhibiting good habits, and is built on a foundation in which skills and abilities are taught and perfected over time.

Six-week training packages with sub-par instruction are not the answer.


  • GRASSO, B. (2004) Is speed training appropriate for adolescents? Part II [WWW] Available from [Accessed 2/1/2018]




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