Archive for “Athletic Success” Tag

13 Tips for Training Young Athletes

Important Differences between Training Young Athletes and Adults

By Michael Mejia

training young athletes

When training young athletes, the coach must take a different approach from one who works primarily with adults. Simply put, young athletes are different from adults and have different needs. Don’t get me wrong: Adults have their own problems, but there are a few that are much more important to keep in mind when training young athletes.

The following is a list of 13 tips that you can share with your young athletes as you prepare them for games, competitions, or simply an injury-free, athletic life. The more you can instill these principles in your athletes, the more success they will see on a regular basis.

Don’t forget: even though this is tailored for coaches training young athletes, adults can benefit from many of these principles, too!

13 Tips for Successfully Training Young Athletes

1. Drink more water

Training Young Athletes

By now, this one should go without saying. Over 70% of your body is water, and it is the number one thing your body needs for survival-not soda or Red Bull! How can you possibly expect to perform at a high level if you’re not drinking enough? How much is enough? Check out the new BASE Resource Page to find out.

2. Form is everything!

Nothing irritates me more than watching motivated athletes throw weights around with reckless abandon. I get that these athletes are young and feel invincible. I also get that many of them will do whatever is physically necessary to realize their athletic goals. That said, slinging weights all over the place is neither necessary nor is it particularly smart. Take the time to teach the proper form for lifts like squats, deadlifts, Olympic lifts and overhead presses. Once your athletes have the basic mechanics down, gradually start increasing the weight.

3. Posture is more important than you realize

Besides looking unattractive, poor posture can adversely affect your breathing, your digestion, and your risk of injury by promoting widespread muscular imbalance. This can lead to impaired performance on the field and even in the classroom!

There are a number of ways to correct poor posture. First of all, an appropriate training regimen will promote mobility and stability in the right areas, and it can strengthen key postural muscles. But by simply trying to stand and sit up a little bit straighter several times throughout the day, your athletes can help undue some of effects of all that constant texting and gaming.

4. Eat more fruits and vegetables

Here’s another area where the average kid’s diet falls woefully short. Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are lacking in many of the other foods kids tend to favor. They’re also a great way to improve immune system function, lowering their risk for developing all sorts of diseases.

Having a conversation with your athletes about the importance of eating these foods is a good start. Make sure you relate the benefits to their athletic development, academic performance, and overall growth. Then ask them if they know how to get these fruits and veggies. Most of the time, young athletes have little control over what’s in their refrigerators, so involving Mom and Dad is a great next step.

5. Want to get faster? Get stronger!

This is another fundamental of proper programming. Doing endless speed and agility drills is not always the best way to get faster. If you’re not also working to increase strength through the lower body and core, as well develop good ankle and hip mobility, then those drills are of limited value.

Instead, getting faster requires imparting force into the ground through a full range of motion. This results from strength-building, lower-body (and especially posterior-chain) exercises more so than endless drills.

6. Don’t rely on supplements

Training young athletes 5

Supplements are something you add to an already sound nutritional program; they’re not some magic elixir. Unfortunately, some athletes think that something with a nice, shiny label full of ridiculous claims can make up for a steady diet of McDonald’s and easy mac and cheese.

Again, the solution here is to start the conversation with your athletes. Some of them don’t know any better and want to get that edge over the competition. If you educate them on the value of proper nutrition—and the dangers and potential future loss-of-eligibility concerns with certain supplements—they will have a better understanding of what they need to do.

7. Change your internal dialogue

A bit of a change-up from my usual advice, but lately I’ve noticed more and more athletes engaging in negative self-talk. When they constantly say things like “I stink,” or “I’m never going to (insert athletic goal here),” how do they ever expect to succeed?

If you hear your athletes saying, “I’m a lousy free throw shooter,” stop them and get them to say, “I’m getting better and better at making free throws.” Or, if you hear them say something along the lines of “I’m not fast enough,” have them focus on saying, “My speed is improving every day.” Even if it isn’t true right away, it will start getting them in the proper frame of mind to make those changes a reality.

8. If you can’t see it in the mirror, train it!

Training Young Athletes 6

Athletes love focusing on their “mirror muscles” with lots of bench presses, crunches, and biceps curls. However, the real key to athletic success (and longevity) lies in training everything on the backside of the body.

As their coach, when training young athletes, make sure you are strengthening their upper and lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves to give their bodies much more balance and stability.

9. Sweat the small stuff

Athletes who don’t make time to warm-up thoroughly, stretch, and foam roll on a regular basis are making a huge mistake. Though frequently glossed over, these three areas represent some of the best ways for athletes to improve performance and reduce injury risk. I for one consider them every bit as important (if not more) than strength training, plyomterics, and speed and agility work.

If you don’t already do so, make warming up a priority. Go beyond this and give athletes a routine they can do on their own before practices and games. The more an athlete can prepare him or herself for athletic performance, the fewer injuries they will see and the more athletic success they will enjoy.

10. Choose whole grains whenever possible

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Most young athletes don’t understand the differences between refined and whole grains, so educate them on the importance of minimizing their intake of foods made with white flour such as white breads, bagels, white pasta, and even white rice. These foods bring about rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, leading to subsequent energy crashes. Instead, encourage them to opt for whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and sweet potatoes.

11. Give “camp” the boot

Count me amongst those who are not big fans of boot camp training for young athletes. While great workouts for more experienced trainees who are looking to test the limits of their strength and endurance, boot camp workouts are seldom a good option for developing bodies. Contrary to popular belief, young athletes tend to do better with lower reps, especially when doing more technically proficient exercises like cleans, plyometrics, and other compound exercises. Boot camps tend to feature way too much volume, which only invites fatigue and increases injury risk.

12. Be prepared!

Whether it’s forgetting to bring enough water along to practice or not having any healthy snacks on hand, a lack of preparation can be the difference between success and disappointment. Remind your athletes to be prepared, and empower them to become self-sufficient at looking after themselves.

One good place to start is to encourage your athletes to take some time each evening to set up some nutritious meals and snacks for the next day. You might have to help them understand what is nutritious, but once you do, they will be fueled and ready to go for school and training.

13. There are no short cuts

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Although we sometimes have a hard time believing it, this process takes time. In fact, some say it lasts an entire lifetime!

That’s exactly why I’ve presented all of this to you in list fashion, so you can chunk things down and encourage gradual, consistent change in your athletes towards achieving their goals. I know all about the impatience of youth. Like it or not, though, if you really want these changes to stick in your athletes, it’s going to take some time. Have patience and work on each item one at a time until they become habits. With perseverance and a caring approach, your athletes will eventually respond positively.

There you have it: 13 tips for getting the most out of your athletes. The next time you run into a roadblock training young athletes, consult this list and see if one of these principles can help you break new ground.

If you want to take your game to the next level when it comes to training young athletes make sure that you start your IYCA Youth Fitness Certification today! The best of the best in the industry know that the IYCA is the ‘go-to’ resource for info on training young athletes. Get certified today!

Youth Fitness Training



Damage Control: Reversing the effects of early specialization


Damage Control: Reversing the effects of early specialization


Early Specialization with young athletes can lead to many issues


By Mike Mejia CSCS


In last month’s newsletter, which you can access here, I wrote about why young athletes shouldn’t necessarily engage in sports specific training and instead, focus on developing more in the way of global athleticism. While certainly sound advice, for some it may come a bit too late. The unfortunate reality is that far too many kids have not only been specializing in a single sport from an early age, but many have also geared any fitness efforts solely towards enhancing their performance in said sport. As a result, there are legions of young athletes who’ve already developed significant movement restrictions and musculoskeletal imbalances that often serve as precursors to injury. Whether it’s a teenage swimmer with chronic shoulder pain, or a high school aged basketball player with “bad knees”, the message to be as diversified as possible when it comes to early sports participation and exercise habits is lost on some. So, what do you do when the ship seems to have sailed in terms of developing a well-rounded athlete and are instead, forced to deal with a young body in an obvious state of disrepair?


Not that there aren’t things you can do to help correct any existing problems. Changing the training focus to include more in the way of flexibility work and strengthening those areas that often go neglected to promote more balanced physical development is always a good idea. There are however certain “sensitive periods” where the acquisition of specific bio-motor skills is going to be much easier to attain. During the ages of 9-12 for instance, kids are developmentally ready to make the most rapid improvements in things like balance, agility and coordination. Or in other words, the kind of physical attributes that are the cornerstone of athletic success. Again, not that these types of skills can’t be attained to a certain degree later in an athlete’s development. It’s just that spending so much time specializing puts them at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to overall athleticism and in turn, runs the risk of imposing serious limitations of their ability to perform at a high level as they get older.


So, if you do have a fourteen, fifteen year old (or older) young athlete who is just now trying to undo some of the damage caused by what’s been a decidedly one-sided approach to sports participation and physical conditioning, he or she is going to have to go about things a bit differently.


One of the main things that will entail is forgoing a lot of the more popular forms of training aimed at enhancing performance (i.e. plyometrics, Olympic lifting and advanced speed and agility work) and instead, concentrating on some less glamorous but ultimately more necessary aspects of maintaining a fit, healthy body. These include things like:


Paying constant attention to posture: No kid wants to hear it, but employing good postural habits is one of the best ways to help guard against injury. Even if a young athlete were to completely revamp his, or her training approach to target all the areas the young athlete needs to work most, that’s still only on average about two to four hours per week where they’d be working towards correcting the problem. Compare this to the hours of repetitive motion involved in practicing and competing in their sport, as well as all of the time spent slumped over in class, in front of computers and texting and you can see where it’s hard to make any kind of lasting improvements. However, being aware of their posture as often as possible throughout the day is one of the best and easiest ways of helping them restore more structural balance.


Treating conditioning like a job: If a young athlete is going to spend that much time practicing and competing, they’d better find a way to put some serious effort into helping their body withstand the rigors of all that abuse. This involves a lot more than just hitting the weight room with reckless abandon. Improving soft tissue quality with things like foam rolling, doing a sound dynamic warm-up prior to all forms of physical activity and post workout stretching aimed at those areas where they’re especially tight, are all vital components of a well-rounded program. Gone are the days where kids could just enjoy sports for hours on end without giving any thought to what they were doing to their bodies. This age of early specialization has drastically altered the landscape; essentially forcing kids to approach conditioning in a whole new light- especially if they want to have any kind of staying power in their chosen sport.


Allowing more time for recovery and regeneration: Recovery is without question, one of the most overlooked aspects of athletic performance. Yet time and time again I see young athletes pushing themselves to their absolute limits, only to come right back the next day and do it all over again. True, kids do have the resiliency of youth on their side, but that doesn’t mean that the “more is better” mindset should always prevail. I’ve got nothing against seeing kids work hard, but there are limits. Allowing athletes more recovery time between practices, competitions and workouts will ultimately yield better results in terms of both performance and injury prevention.


Besides not scheduling their practices and workouts too closely together, encourage your athletes to employ other types of recovery aids during those periods of the season that are most physically demanding. In addition to the aforementioned stretching and foam rolling, things like epsom salt baths, contrast showers and even dietary changes like adding in more alkaline foods (leafy greens, sweet potatoes, almonds, green tea etc.) are all effective ways of helping to reduce inflammation and facilitate better muscle recovery.


While you obviously can’t go back in time and do anything about your child having succumbed to early specialization at an early age, there’s plenty you can do right now to help manage the situation and get them started on a healthier path. Encourage them to focus on posture, stretching and strengthening exercises that are going to promote more physical balance and create good lifelong habits. Because let’s face it; the vast majority of kids will never go on to compete at any sort of high level.


So, make it your business to help them avoid early specialization and having to experience any long-term effects from participating in the sport they love.




Sport Specific Youth Training: Part 2


Sport Specific Youth Training Principles

The following are some guidelines for training and developing figure skaters from an athletic and functional perspective:


Promote concepts of multilateral development. This is a hard pill to swallow within the world of figure skating due to the fact that many coaches, parents and trainers are interested in pushing the limits with young kids in the hopes of national and international success. Your job as a parent or coach with young skaters is to introduce them to as much athletic stimulus as possible.


The nervous system of a young athlete is malleable and requires input to develop optimally. If you are prescribing little more than basic fitness and on-ice type movements, you are robbing the child of potential athletic growth and limiting his or her prospective success. Look at Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko respectively – one played hockey the other took martial arts. Diversity contributes to athletic success not hinders it.


Sport Specific Youth Training



Sport Specialization for Young Athletes: Part 1

[wpfblike] Sport Specialization for Young Athletes (more…)

Coordination and Movement Skill Development For Young Athletes: The Key to Long Term Athletic Success




Young Athletes Long Term Athletic Success

The key ingredient to working with pre-adolescent and early adolescent young athletes is providing global stimulation from a movement perspective. Younger athletes must experience and eventually perfect a variety of motor skills in order to ensure both future athletic success and injury prevention. Developing basic coordination through movement stimulus is a must, with the eventual goal of developing sport-specific coordination in the teenage years. Coordination itself, however, is a global system made up of several synergistic elements and not necessarily a singularly defined ability.


Balance, rhythm, spatial orientation and the ability to react to both auditory and visual stimulus have all been identified as elements of coordination. In fact, the development of good coordination is a multi-tiered sequence that progresses from skills performed with good spatial awareness but without speed to skills performed at increased speeds and in a constantly changing environment. As Joseph Drabik points out, Young Athletes coordination is best developed between the ages of 7 – 14, with the most crucial period being between 10 – 13 years of age.


As with anything else, an important issue with respect to coordination development is to provide stimulus that is specific (and therefore appropriate) for the individual. Prescribing drills that are either too easy or too difficult for the young athletes will have a less than optimal result.


An interesting note, as I have suggested in past articles, is that there appears to be a cap with respect to coordination development and ability. Younger athletes who learn to master the elements associated with good coordination (balance, rhythm, spatial awareness, reaction etc), are far better off then athletes who are not exposed to this kind of exercise stimulation until advanced ages. The ability to optimally develop coordination ends at around the age of 16. This validates the claim that global, early exposure is the key from an athletic development standpoint. Again, global coordination will serve as the basis to develop specific coordination in the teenage years.