Fundamental To Sport Specific Training for Young Athletes



Young Athletes and Sports Training

Spida Hunter is a one-of-a-kind trainer from New Zealand. He has worked with participants of all ages and abilities. I thought that you might all enjoy a glimpse into how things are done with young athletes on the other side of the world!


IYCA: What’s your background in youth sports and athletics? Have you worked with young athletes?


SH: I don’t specialize in youth sports or athletics however I do train young aspiring athletes that are looking to produce the best results and performance that they can achieve. I have worked with puberty (and post puberty) athletes which is a very influential age and a very important age not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well! I will also be training a 1st XV high school rugby team next season.


IYCA: There are a lot of coaches, parents, and even trainers who treat young athletes as if they were "little adults." What I mean by that is they will take the training routine of a superstar athlete and use it as a guide when working with youngsters. Why, if at all, should we warn them against that kind of training?


SH: I used to get very frustrated with the mentality of; this is what they do so you can too! However other then a selected few I truly believe now, is that parents, coaches and unfortunately trainers are actually doing what they believe is the best thing for the young athlete. This is what they know so this is what they hand down I do not believe that a parent, coach, trainer would purposely harm a child through training but unfortunately this is what they do when they treat the child as a "little adult"!


The principles/values are the same for all my clients/athletes however the process is different and a simple explanation would be that you have to have a foundation to build on and youth athletes are in foundation time of their life with training for their sport and more importantly for life as well and we all know that you can not build anything on top of a poor foundation.


IYCA: The age old debate is "How old should an athlete be before beginning to lift weights." What’s your view on that controversial topic?


SH: Yes this one, it’s an oldie but a goody! If I relate it back to my motto "Enhance the human body for life and or the sporting arena" then I would say TODAY regardless of age! First though let me explain lifting weights. I like the term resistance training because it doesn’t put you into a category of lifting a external load only! Resistance training to me means the ability to resist/produce/stabilize and move a force. And to be truly performance efficient you have to be able to move your Body weight before external weight! So with that being said, start moving your body weight efficiently TODAY!


IYCA: Using your ideals, could you define "functional conditioning" for us?


SH: Functional Conditioning (FC) is a term that is been branded around every where today. While there are many complicated and varying explanations of FC, I like to describe it as a systematic process that endeavors to reach your goals; this can suit a body builder to an elite athlete to the person looking to increase their quality of life. It’s really that simple if we start to complicate it with fitness "Geek" words we are only going to make the process harder then it needs to be. Keep it simple and start from the ground up!


IYCA: If you were prescribing a training program or health ten-year- old athletes, what would the session entail? Length? Exercises?


SH: A systematic approach to FUN that lasts up to 40mins! Everything will evolve around fun that will enhance their athletic ability. We would warm up with fundamental movements e.g. squats, lunges etc then put those movements and others into games like tag or rob the nest. This would be there conditioning part of the session. Then finish off with dynamic/static warm down. Fun training is the catalyst to learning and that’s what is important that the child is learning and developing. Don’t mistake fun for no work ethic we are installing those values in training just in a disguised way!


IYCA:Is there a particular criteria or path that you follow when developing young athletes over a long period of time? For example, at what age is it best to develop flexibility? Power? Coordination?


SH: The protocol that I follow (which is flexible) is body weight before external weight and the way that I develop this is by a pyramid format: This pyramid system that I follow is what I use to develop all athletes. Fundamental Training to Athleticism Training then finally to Sport Specific Training. Unfortunately we train sport specific straight away which can hinder performance, remember to start from the ground up not the other way round!


From using this model I will concentrate on areas of weakness rather develop them by their actual age. I know this goes against the norm but with smart planning WHY develop them just to their actual age, develop them by their maturity physically, mentally and emotionally. They have greater chance to progress as you are not holding them back because they are 10yrs old!


IYCA: Should athletes specialize in particular sports at a young age or participate in a number of different sports? Why?


SH: This is a growing trend in New Zealand that our youth are playing rugby only to become part of the elite group of All Blacks! There are multiple reasons that this is not ideal for your child. By playing one sport only you become a one dimensional athlete which means you are only developing the brain for the movements of one sport rather then multiple movements from multiple sports that will enhance athletic performance. This one sport approach can lead to injuries, boredom, plateau in performance and a narrow mindedness from being a one sport athlete. If I compare our greatest All Blacks that contained the X factor they all had a huge amount of athleticism that was unmatched throughout the world! This is why they had the X factor!


IYCA: Are there age ranges in which certain injuries are more prevalent?


SH: I do not know of any in youth sports in NZ that are more prevalent in injuries however, I would be surprised to hear of any in this country as we have watered down our contact sports for e.g. rugby is tackle from 9yrs+ of age. While some parents may find this to be safer for kids to participate in rugby, it’s setting up more injuries post puberty.


How this is achieved, is you don’t learn to tackle properly until you actually have too and when you get to intermediate 11-13yrs (puberty) and high school 14-18yrs (post puberty) we can get some pretty big guys therefore learning to tackle correctly physically and psychologically is very important! Rugby League however still tackle from 5+yrs of age and still are the best defenders of all contact sports!


IYCA: Can you give any blanket advice to the athletes, coaches, and parents out their in terms of basic injury prevention?


SH: Learn the difference between Pain and Tension. Pain can be described as sharp pain that pulls you up in your tracks i.e. muscle tear, while tension is feeling the muscles working in the movement. Learn to differentiate between the two, as this will help you feel what is good for you and what is not. Everyone’s pain/tension threshold is different so it’s important from a trainer’s/parent/coaches perspective what a individual player’s threshold is as well. This is important for knowing which players are hiding behind hard work and what players are over doing training!


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One Response

  1. leo deering says:

    Absolutely a great article! Have these questions all the time and I look forward in providing this information to my players, parents and coach’s. Keep up the great work in providing information that will change not only the physical side of youth but most important side the MENTAL Side.

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