Important Differences between Training Young Athletes and Adults
By Michael Mejia
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
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
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!
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
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
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!