Youth sports are a great, great thing. They get kids involved in athletics, can teach some valuable skills, AND build character. That said, I’ve been around a LOT of youth programs and teams in my team, and many end up doing more harm than good by not knowing what’s good for their young athletes in regards to training.
I’ve been doing some research after moving to the cold of Minnesota a few months ago, and it looks like the state has some pretty solid youth sports organizations and teams that have everything from the typical baseball and softball to track and field, hockey, and even skiing!
While I think these are all great things, and great for the kids, in my experience a lot of (read: most) youth sport programs and coaches that I’ve been around miss the boat on a few VERY important things.
The first problem is something that I see often with youth football and track and field teams/programs. And it’s a BIG no-no:
Problem 1: Too much distance running/too many long-duration activities that get kids into a lactic environment
Like I said, this one is HUGE, and for more reasons that can be covered in one post. First things first, younger athletes have nervous/neuro-muscular systems that are much more plastic (less resistant to change) than older athletes.
An over-reliance on distance activities (aside from being more likely to result in overuse injuries) ALSO “programs” the athlete’s neuromuscular “computer”, if you will, to fire more slowly. This is a big no-no! The top athletes in the game are almost ALWAYS those that possess greater “fast-twitch” qualities (yes, even Olympic marathon runners) than athletes that aren’t “programmed” as fast.
Focusing on sprints, lower-impact jumping, and explosive throws with light medicine balls can help “program” young athletes in such a way that they are set up for greater success in ALL of their future athletic endeavors.
As for those that argue that you still need to get your kiddos in shape–it’s easy! Aerobic endurance is arguably the most plastic of “fitness qualities”, or the easiest to change. At a young age, focus on training and “conditioning” that focuses on high-quality, low volume speed and “power” work (as described above), PRE-hab work (keep those arms healthy baseballers!) and let the kids HAVE FUN playing the game, getting in shape will take care of itself! Whether it’s youth hockey in Minnesota or pee-wee football in the great state of Texas 🙂
Check back later this week for part 2, and be sure to drop a comment and let me know what YOU think about youth sports!