YOUTH PERFORMANCE: Risk or Reward?
I hear a lot of parents ask the same question over and over again: "Is it safe for my son/daughter to train?"
Instead of giving the short answer of yes, I would like to give the extended answer.
First, let's define what it means to "train".
For the weekend warrior, it might be throwing around as many barbells, kettle bells, and weights around as possible to elevate the heart rate and feel good.
For the high school athlete, it might be tapping into new ranges of mobility needed for their sport, sprinting, jumping, changing directions, total body power utilization, total body strength, and truly challenging their core.
For the youth athlete (aged 12 or younger), it is nothing different!
All athletes have to train specific athletic qualities: power, strength, rate of force production, rate of force reduction, sprinting, jumping, visuomotor ability, as well as many others.
Regardless of biological age or maturation status, the youth should be involved in some sort of sports performance training, and the research seems to agree with this statement.
Let's dive into the research of training in the youth population.
One study showed that 11-12 year olds who participated in a supervised strength and conditioning program for 16-weeks showed a significant improvement in sprint times, but there was no change in muscle mass or strength measures .
Let's be real, we can't measure true "strength" as we would with an older, more experienced athlete. That's one limitation to the research that is being conducted on youth athletics.
However, a different study  assessing the differences between pre-peak height velocity and post-peak height velocity athletes found that combined training (resistance training and plyometric training) seemed to be the most effective for the post-peak height velocity group.
The pre-peak velocity group still made gains with resistance training, however they made the greatest gains with a plyometric program, which can be just as (even more) taxing on our central nervous system than resistance training.
Another study looked at movement literacy in female handball players aged 11-12 . After completing a sound strength and conditioning program, including resistance and plyometric training, these females showed significant improvements in sprint time, agility time, jump height, and peak power!
Research also shows that physical training does not impair the physical development of secondary sex characteristics and eventual growth height .
In fact, training at a young age allows for the individual to learn about the body, how to use it, and enhance bone mineral density and muscular activation patterns.
From a non-physical standpoint, training at a young age also helps develop the psychosocial qualities needed to be successful in athletics. The Youth Performance program at ISP takes leadership and team building qualities into account as well.
There are many youth athletes who are practicing way too much, for mostly one sport, which will eventually lead to overuse injuries and even burnout .
Instead of running kids into the ground with constant game play, get them into a structured strength and conditioning program that will allow for the child to enhance overall physiological adaptations for sport and performance.
To conclude this argument, the pre-adolescent athlete is not at risk if he/she is participating in a fundamentally sound strength and conditioning program. Rather, it is a reward.
The Youth Performance program at ISP is dedicated to training the current youth athletes and creating future stars. Each day has a specific theme/goal to be achieved that allows for goal-oriented achievement.
Youth athletes are not just miniature adults, so therefore it is vital that training encompasses and multifaceted program that attacks multiple modes of athleticism.
1. Thompson, B.J., Stock, M.S., and Mota, J.A. (2017). Adaptations Associated With an After-School Strength and Conditioning Program in Middle-School Aged Boys: A Quasi-Experimental Design. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 31(10), 2840-2851.
2. Lloyd, R.S., Radnor, J.M., and De Ste Croix, M. B. A. (2016). Changes in Sprint and Jump Performances After Traditional, Plyometric, and Combined Resistance Training in Male Youth Pre- and Post-Peak Height Velocity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 30(5), 1239-1247.
3. Hopper, A., Haff, E.E., and Barley, O.R. (2017). Neuromuscular Training Improves Movement Competency and Physical Performance Measures in 11-13 Year Old Female Netball Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 31(5), 1165-1176.
4. National Strength and Conditioning Association Position Statement on Long-Term Athletic Development. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 30(6), 1491-1509.