A while ago we had a great thread on the forum entitled Athlete Engagement and Behavior. Anthony had suggested that I expand my thoughts from the thread into an article.
The thread began with this question:
“Would really appreciate if anyone could share their experiences or direct me to some good resources regarding engaging young athletes (13-15 year old female athletes) in structured strength and conditioning sessions.”
My response ( expanded on here) began with this:
Training kids is a balancing act. Kids are kids. They should be having some fun training. However, at 13 -15 they should also be learning that there is a serious aspect to training. If you are having trouble controlling a group, I strongly advocate removing those who are most disruptive, or at least threatening to do so. The threat of getting kicked out adds a bit of “what if” to the equation. What if I have to go home and explain that I got kicked out of a training session?
This “threat” gets the message across. You are the boss and this is a practice. What you really have to learn is to be “tight but loose.” You have to establish the boundaries. With kids it’s a constant push- pull. Sometimes you are pushing them forward from an effort standpoint and other times you pull them back from silliness. With females you can be pushing them to try a heavier load, with males you might be pulling them back from trying to impress the other boys.
Start with simple organizational stuff. Put them in lines, keep them in lines. Call out those who distract the others. Always lines, no circles. Keep everyone where you can see them. Kids behind you is like an invitation to screw around
With kids we want to be light on science and heavy on structure. You can keep them busy as the loads are light and the work is primarily technical. Rest between sets is not nearly as critical as it is with older, stronger, more experienced athletes. I use their energy as a guideline. If they have time to screw around, we are probably going too slowly.
On the flip side, develop relationships with the problem kids and realize that winning them over is the goal, not kicking them out. Kicking them out should be the last resort. In truth, develop relationships with all the kids. Learn all the names, ideally learn about them. Do they have siblings? Do they have two parents? Do they have two moms or two dads (more common than you think these days). In truth, the relationships will end up being the best part of coaching. You will be changing lives for the better.
I advocate a John Wooden style of teaching for everything we do. This works particularly good with kids. Wooden had a simple, do this, not this, this approach.
Show them three times (while telling them). Give a good demo followed by the most common mistake, and finish with the good demo again.
Remember, the demos mean much more than the words. Kids today are powerfully visual. Keep the talk to a minimum and let them learn by doing.
Training kids can either be the best experience or the worst. You just have to remind yourself that you are the facilitator, the culture creator. You will get what you ask for. Ask for more.
Michael Boyle is one of the foremost experts in the fields of Strength and Conditioning, Functional Training and general fitness. He currently spends his time lecturing, teaching, training and writing. In 1996 Michael co founded Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, one of the first for-profit strength and conditioning companies in the world. Go to StrengthCoach.com to interact with Mike on his popular message boards.