- Honour Developmental Age:
First rule: Children are NOT small adults. One of the biggest missteps in training children is the assumption that we can just pound them with the same exercises we would do as an adult. Children’s central nervous system is plastic – meaning it is still developing and molding. Placing an emphasis first and foremost on proper movement patters and posture is monumentally important. Loading should come only after proper movement mechanics are in place – this goes for not only external weight but also plyometrics.
- Keep the Element of Fun:
Youth athletes – regardless of their level of competitiveness and athletic attributes require an element of fun in their training sessions. Be sure to include games, mini competitions and vary the activity to avert physical and mental drain.
- Play to individual differences:
It’s particularly important when coaching children to recognize their skill/motivation continuum. The International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA) notes differing levels of skill and motivation amongst children. Children may be any combination of low/high skill and/or low/high motivation and it is important for coaches to learn the art of effectively reaching these athletes. For high motivation/high skill athletes for example, coaches can delegate them and they will follow. Conversely, low motivation, low skill athletes should be directed – quietly and without centering them out.
- Vary the Stimulus:
Young athletes should be taught a variety of skill sets – rather than hyperfocusing on training for a given sport or skill. Skill focus will shift throughout the ages but placing a high emphasis on elements of coordination (balance, spatial awareness, kinesthetic differentiation, rhythm, reactivity) are of great importance from the ages of 6-9 as an example. Depending on the sport/group/situation, be sure to also include elements of strength, mobility and other biomotor abilities. Include locomotor (running, jumping, crawling, jumping) non-locomotor (pushing, pulling, twisting) and manipulative (throwing, catching).
- Educate/Inspire them
In any given week, coaches may only have a couple of hours to spend with youth athletes. Give them tips and tools that will not only help them during the session and in their sport but in life as well. Encourage them to succeed in all facets of life by honouring them as people – encouraging them through their weaknesses and praising their strengths. As coaches we have no idea sometimes how our advice, wisdom and encouragement can impact a child for the rest of their lives.
I welcome all feedback and questions relating to youth fitness. If you are in the Vancouver area, contact me to get a complementary session for your child.