Team sport participation has social and health benefits for children and teens. While young people can gain self-esteem, discipline, and tenacity from intramural programs, playing in a competitive league can also increase their opportunities for playing at the high school and collegiate levels.
Parents, coaches, and athletic trainers can help young athletes reach their potential while minimizing the risk of injury. Specialized conditioning and training programs enable young people to build their stamina and strength in line with their physical and mental development.
Needs of Young Athletes
Many children start playing team sports when they enter kindergarten. For example, soccer training for kids programs can enroll players as young as 5 years old. At this age, a child’s gross motor skills are still developing. For this reason, leagues for younger children generally focus more on following directions, good sportsmanship, and gross motor activities, such as running and jumping.
By 10 years old, young people have the cognitive and physical ability to meaningfully participate in competitive sports. They can also begin light strength-training routines. This can accelerate their training age, which is based on years of strength training experience rather than birth years. Youths with higher training ages at puberty can progress faster than young people who start strength training in their teens. This advantage can last throughout the child’s lifetime.
Strength vs Weight Training
While some people may use these terms interchangeably, weight training is considered a subset of strength training. Strength training programs are a combination of exercises that are intended to bulk up muscle mass, most strength training happens at a gym where equipment and machines are set up for lifting heavy.
Weight training is exercises that use equipment such as dumbbells, kettlebells, and weight resistance machines to improve fitness. Weight training alone can promote weight loss or improve physical health, but will not have the same impact on athletic ability as a full-scale strength training routine.
Strength Training Benefits for Young People
Many of the same benefits that adults reap from strength and weight training, such as increased muscle mass and stronger bones, are maximized in children. Since the body is in a period of immense growth during puberty, trainers consider this time an optimal window for developing strength, agility, and stamina in younger athletes. Proper strength training can also increase speed, coordination, and balance, all essential skills for playing sports at the competitive level.
Strength Training Myths Dispelled
Many parents worry that weight or strength training exercises can be harmful to their children. For example, some parents mistakenly believe that using weights will stunt their child’s growth. According to pediatricians and other child development experts, there is no evidence that strength training can cause any type of harm when performed under trained adult supervision.
However, to prevent injuries, children have the appropriate level of supervision based on their age and training experience. For younger children, this may mean smaller class sizes, or even one-to-one training, as they require more support to perform exercises safely. Additionally, children should never use equipment or machines intended for adults.
Best Practices for Strength Training Young Athletes
Strength and weight training is suitable for children as young as seven. However, trainers and coaches must consider individual factors, such as the child’s weight and height, gender, and training age when putting together a program.
Normally, young athletes begin a strength training program using bodyweight only. Since younger children have shorter attention spans, training programs for children under 12 place less emphasis on repetition and focus instead on variety. This not only helps keep kids engaged but also reduces the chances of muscle overuse. Older children can benefit from a more structured routine.
Prioritize Correct Form
In order to gain the bone and muscle-building benefits of a strength training workout, the exercises must be completed properly. Children and teens should always be supervised by an experienced trainer or coach.
Youth with little training experience should start with smaller weights. If a child is unable to do 8 repetitions in a single set, then the weight is too heavy. Coaches should increase weights only when the child can complete between 8 to 12 repetitions in proper form.
Concentrate on Muscle Groups
Weight training increases muscle mass and bone density by creating tension on the tendons, which stimulates growth. However, overusing the same muscle groups makes injury more likely. Further, muscles need time to repair themselves after an intense workout.
Ideally, a strength training regiment should engage all the major muscle groups. To prevent strains or other injuries, at least one recovery day should be scheduled between each workout. Individual sessions shouldn’t last more than 30 minutes. However, kids with high energy levels can enjoy other activities, such as swimming or running, on their rest days.