Young Athletes Performance
How to test a group of young athletes has become a popular
‘discussion board’ question recently. I have seen this query
raised on several prominent websites and have been asked
about it a great deal over the past few months as well.
Thus… my desire to touch on this subject.
The common curiosity surrounds how to test absolute strength
ability via 1, 4 or 8 RM (rep maximum). The thought process
is that once a trainer or coach has a baseline measurement of a
given athletes strength capacity, they can deduce two specific
– The strength gain(s) that an athlete will see following a training
program (because inevitably they will re-test the athlete at the
conclusion of there 6 or 8 week training cycle).
– The percentage of absolute strength the athlete can and should
perform their training programs. For example, if a 1RM squat
equals 225 pounds, then a ‘training weight’ may be 70% of that,
or 158 pounds.
I have touched on my disdain of this type of testing procedure
many times in my newsletter, so the following will serve as
little more than a recap:
Biomotor improvements (strength, speed, flexibility) are not
hard to come by with young athletes and are often just as
attributable to their natural adolescent maturation process as
they are to any ‘cutting edge’ training program a given trainer
or coach will put together.
More over, as demonstrated in countless studies, detraining
effects will occur in a relatively short period of time once the
training program has concluded.
Pursuant to the above point, we must progress away from the
‘value-intensive’ practice of training young athletes in short
bursts (6 – 8 weeks) and shift to a more long-term and
‘principle-focused’ approach to working with kids.
In that, a given training program would not look to isolate and
improve biomotor ability as much as it would act as a teaching
agent with a focus on improving transferability to sport.
In this value to principle shift I suggest, we must also look to take
pressure off of kids in general. Like it or not, if you adhere to test
or re-test training programs of short durations, you are allowing
that athlete to think only of the numbers and specific improvement
Kids should not be placed in a situation where the efficacy of
their training is based on how much more they can squat in week
7 than they did in week 1.
Again, your focus as a trainer or coach should be on technical
ability and improvements in this consideration. Create RTA
(rate of technical ability) charts that mark how well a child is
progressing from a form and function standpoint.
Not only is this a more ‘teaching-based’ approach to conditioning,
but it also changes the focus and mental stress for the athlete – from
performance considerations (i.e. how much weight can they lift) to
technical considerations (i.e. how well can they lift it).
One of the more problematic issues I have seen in this debate revolves
around why a trainer or coach is testing at all. The reason to test must
be completely based on what you want to glean from the results…
and most coaches and trainers don’t seem to see that clearly enough.
For example, one of the questions that was recently posed to me was
in reference to a freshman baseball team (14 year old athletes). The
coach told me straight out that the kids had little to no experience in
terms of strength training, so testing the squat would not be a
worthwhile assessment. Instead, the coach wanted to know if leg
press or leg extension would be more feasible because they lack
Points to consider:
If you know that the kids have no lifting expertise, than by
nature of that conclusion, your role as a trainer/coach is to teach.
There is simply no reason to test strength capacity in a situation
where the kids you are working with have no experience at all.
That is part of the dogmatic thinking that must change in our
youth training culture.
Leg press and leg extension are silly exercises that will do more
harm than good to anyone. Specifically, lumbar rounding in the
leg press and anterior sheering at the knee joint with leg extension
make the risk/reward ratio of these exercises useless.
Additionally, and this speaks to my statement above, what is
the point of testing strength on an apparatus that you have no
intension of using during training?
Again, you must first ascertain why you are testing.
The reality is that in the United States, many high schools use
a programming model that is based on test/re-test situations
right from freshman through varsity.
The notion that incoming freshman, with little to no technical
ability, are being asked to perform strength assessments from
day one is nothing short of ridiculous… oh… and maybe a
touch dangerous as well.
Teach… Teach… Teach.
I cannot re-state that enough. Forget about testing biomotor
ability and concentrate on actually teaching young athletes the
skills they need to excel in sport AND be remain injury free.
‘Til Next Time,