Sport is competitive and in today’s world you need to work smarter and harder to get an edge on the competition. Athletic development is probably the most overlooked area of all sports. As young athletes seek to excel in their specific sport, they are taught how to improve their game and get stronger in their position, but they’re not taught how to be a better athlete.
A lot is expected of athletes. They must be fast, strong, agile, perform under pressure, and persevere when faced with adversity. Some athletes gain these skills through experience and some never figure it out. As parents, coaches and personal trainers, our job is to give young athletes the best chance for them to succeed. We need to teach them how to maximize their potential both physically and mentally, while doing it as safely as possible to promote their longevity.
Athletic development can be broken down into five categories: mechanics, balance, coordination, strength, and education.
Mechanics focuses on how things work. How to run, jump and change directions while using the proper techniques.
Balance requires balanced muscles and center of mass. Is your right leg stronger than your left? Do you use the proper muscles to perform an exercise? And do you know how to manipulate your center of mass to influence position?
Coordination is all about hand/eye, footwork, and reaction time.
Strength focuses on force output and endurance.
Education is the most important aspect when it comes to young athletes. It’s the why and the how behind everything in athletics. Why do certain injuries happen? How can we run faster? How can we jump higher? Why should we drink enough water? How much is enough and when is it too much?
Parents and coaches often ask what is the best age to start their young athlete on an athletic development plan and they often have a number of concerns.
“I don’t want to stunt their growth”
“I don’t want them losing interest in sports because it’s too difficult”
“They will naturally learn more as grow into their sport”
These are real life issues that can be addressed with proper training that is tailored to the athlete. Many parents and coaches are surprised that there are proven programs starting at age 7 (and even age 6 when they’re ahead of the curve). Here's how we build over the years based on age:
Ages 7-9: Focus running mechanics, jumping mechanics, balance and coordination
Ages 10-12: Add in injury prevention education and introduce sustained high intensity training and plyometrics
Ages 13-15: Introduce weight-lifting mechanics, high impact training and goal oriented training
Ages 16+: Incorporate lifting cycles and recovery
It’s never too early or too late to give your athletes the additional support to maximize their success. And it’s no surprise that when young athletes participate in athletic development programs they’re more successful than the athletes that have to figure it out for themselves. With the proper teaching, training and education your athlete will not only have a leg up on the competition, but have the proper foundation to play their sport at a high-level for as long as possible.