Young Athletes: Are they an Oak or a Squash?




Young Athletes Development

“It takes God a hundred years to make an oak, but it only takes Him two months to make a squash.” –President James Garfield


In our results-now, win at all costs, sports-crazed society, many athletes, coaches, parents, and professionals seem to have lost sight of the goal of sport and physical activity for growing young athletes.  What is currently widely marketed as “athletic development” by individuals across the country is, in many instances, quick-fix training designed to show immediate results.  While results are great, young athletes and their parents and coaches must be certain that such short-term improvements don’t compromise long term outcomes.  The following represents an incomplete list of potential warning signs that may indicate that programming may be too short sighted in nature to be optimally effective.


1.    Heavy emphasis on measureable assessments to demonstrate progress. Developing children will usually improve no matter what type of stimulus is introduced; the key is finding the optimal training approach.  Testing eight year olds in the 40 yard dash or in the vertical leap may be acceptable, but developing an entire training program around such testing is laughable.  Competent professionals are more interested in mechanics and the acquisition of steadily improving motor patterns rather than showing stunning improvements in “measurable” early on.


2.    Short-term programming. Six and eight week programs are popular and certainly have their place in contemporary athletic development facilities; however, the main utility of such programs should be to introduce athletes, parents, and coaches to the long-term athlete development model.  Beware any facility that does not offer long-term training plans, as it is impossible to effectively develop a young athlete with such a myopic approach.


3.    Pro-level programming. Young athletes are not miniature versions of professional athletes, no matter how skilled or advanced they may appear to be.  While it may seem tempting to place a young athlete in the training program used by the hottest, most explosive and talented pros, it is inappropriate and dangerous to do so.  The overwhelming majority of young athletes simply are not ready for such training, particularly early in their developmental process.


While it may be tempting to progress a young pitcher to be a dominant force or a train a young runner to be relentless and untiring, the athletic development professional must be cautious.  Squash develop quickly, but are gone within a season.  Oaks grow slowly over many years and with time become strong and deeply rooted.  Which would you prefer your young athlete to be?


– Dr. Toby Brooks


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4 Responses

  1. Dustin Winnekens says:

    When I talk with coaches and parents in my area many get excited to talk about the strength program that their school or parents club just purchased. Usually from a strength coach in the NFL or big time Division I school that is looking to get a quick buck.
    I have not seen one that is ran for more than eights weeks. With a progression that not even I would be comfortable performing. Full of some of the most flashy and mechanically complex movements that it amazes me that they are able to place a team on the field. Once on the field they don’t look any different. When I ask what advancements did you see in your athletes after the program the common question is an increase in their bench and clean/jerk. How about balance, core strength, acceleration/deceleration, lateral movements, hip stability/strength and position specific gains? I usually get a, “What?”
    People want results now, and even when I talk with close friends and I tell them that it takes more than eight weeks to get a person ready they generally don’t agree. That is the mind set of our society. Quick with little effort! Maximal results minimal output!
    I generally do what I can, but I make it very clear that I don’t care what the coach wants you to bench or clean/jerk before the season starts. I want you to be healthy and last the whole season. I am also amazed that some programs stop lifting once the season begins. How they plan to maintain what they gained or keep their athletes healthy is beyond me?!
    It is a battle that I face when ever I speak to individuals in power. All I can be sure of is not my boys and not their friends!
    Keep up the good work!

  2. Donovan Owens says:

    This is an awesome article and so, so true. Too many times I see parents who are so caught up in their kids being the next super-star. And too many times I see trainers who are willing to cater to this selfish mentality.

    At what cost?

    Taking away a child’s rights to explore and learn the proper essentials of what it is to have fun while becoming mechanically sound at the right moment. To me, this is very costly.

    Living through children should be on the list of “causes of injury” to our youth.

    Thank you for this article and I hope it is read by many.

    Donovan Owens

  3. Jim Vogelsong says:

    Do you have any trainers in Stuart Florida thank you

  4. Brian Grasso says:


    The IYCA has a database of all our certified professionals worldwide on the homepage (www.IYCA.org)

    Please check for someone in your geographic region.



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