Youth (pre-puberty) strength and conditioning programs have been on the rise, in the U.S., in recent years. There are several benefits for youth athletic development programs, but for many there is an associated stigma. A more common parental concern the industry faces is the stunting of a child’s growth.
- Fact and Fallacy: Stunting Growth
This concern arises from the potential of growth plates in long bones becoming damaged and therefore not performing efficiently. The growth plate, or epiphyseal plate, is what allows a bone to grow until the plate seals once it has reached full development. It can become damaged due to trauma. Damage to the growth plate can occur, especially in contact sports, but a properly structured and supervised strength and conditioning program will actually teach proper movement patterns and strengthen the muscles around the long bones protecting them from potential trauma in many sports. A properly structured program will include greater volumes and lower intensities. These programs will also limit high intensity Olympic lifts and plyometric training, often emphasizing proper landing mechanics to protect the athlete from injuries in sport.
A less common, but still present, stigma is an athlete becoming muscle bounded. This is a fear that an athlete will be riddled with muscle and become to “bulky” to perform well.
- Fallacy: Muscle Bounded
Youth athletes do not have to worry about becoming too bulky because they do not have the hormonal support to put on that amount of mass. A properly structured athletic performance program also contains a mobility component that will offset the loss of range of motion.
We have also had several parents express their concerns with their kid not needing to do strength training but “just needs to get faster”. Almost all athletes want to be faster and speed/ power is a critical component in most sports. It is extremely rare that it is the only component that needs to developed (almost never in youths).
- Fallacy: My Kid Doesn’t Need Strength, They Need to Get Faster!
A youth training program is designed to improve all components of athletic development in order to protect the athlete. Youth athletes do need resistance training in order to protect their bones, learn proper ways to use their body and too encourage their development through and post puberty. In a well-structured youth training program the emphasis is on the neurological aspect of movement. Learning the proper movement patterns can assist a young athlete’s speed but more importantly it will mitigate potential risks that are inherent in most sports.
- Rationale: Benefits of Youth Training
The recurring theme in youth training is safety. Even in youth sports there is a lot of physical stress on young athletes. When coupled with a structured program and supervised by a professional, these stressors can be prepared for. Mobility, resistance training (high volume, low intensity), landing mechanics and movement patterns, should all be emphasized in their training. There are sensitive time periods in life to learn new skills (before the age of 15). Sport specific skills, such as change of direction, are needed to reduce injury and delays in progression.
As long as they are well structured and supervised by professionals, youth strength and conditioning programs are safe and can even reduce risks of injury in sport and play.
- Coach Sean Mathis
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