Many families come to skills lessons and want to know more about off-season strength training and running for their youth athlete, daughter or son. I have collected below four points that I touch on when the conversations drift toward performance training.
There is such a thing as overdoing the mechanical practice of every pitch, swing, and ground ball, even at the youth level. The best thing we can teach our sons and daughters to do is to move correctly and to keep moving. My next sentence will make some sport specialization proponents squirm. PLAY OTHER SPORTS! Base the sport that the athlete is engaged with, on the seasons. Specialization is for the birds, burnout is very real, and in the end, we are all humans that will grow into adults. Not everyone will be a collegiate athlete, but take faith in that these young ones will absolutely be adults someday who have to operate in their bodies. It is best they find out how to make them work now! Take some time off from the sport of choice, but keep moving!
Should the youth athlete in question wish to participate in only one sport ever (this is truly rare), then my next suggestion is to find someone who knows youth performance training in your area. At Frozen Ropes Hershey, athletes of every age are coached through basic good movement patterns in their warm-up and even within the skills session itself. Athletes are guided through bear crawls, planks, supine bridges, inchworms, burpees, triceps pushups, isometric squats, and instruction on landing properly from a jump. Whether or not the athlete comes to me for pitching, hitting, or catching, I insert a few easy to follow movements in every session, that will not only teach them something about the skill they want to learn, but will also stealthily make them stronger or begin to create good movements patterns. The athletes get stronger and more stable without even knowing it.
Your “core” (basically everything on your body from the top of your shoulders, to below your butt) holds all your organs in place but it also aids in movement and prevents injury. Your core is also what will hold you upright after the competitive sports are finished. It is the backbone of movement. Because it is so important, it is ok not only to start with core work before your regular skills sessions but also to practice some kind of core work every day. Go for stability at the beginning so pick something that you can hold for a while and with good alignment. Planks and side planks are so very effective in this arena, and even the professionals and collegiate athletes I have coached will do them.
I could hit you with a few more sports clichés, but I’ll abstain. In youth performance training, we want to make sure that the structure is there before we add resistance. Gravity really does count as resistance, and that should be where many young athletes spend time before loading up a bar and hammering out some next-level deadlifts. I usually start talking about athletes engaging in some kind of guided movement training around the ages of 12-13. Because of the instruction I offer in lessons I can usually tell when an athlete could benefit from hitting the weight room, but also when they are physically capable of handling the added focus of building strength
Everyone can benefit from performance training, even adults. It doesn’t matter if your particular trajectory takes you to the collegiate ranks, professional realm, or just allows you to kick tail in your adult cycling classes. I have had athletes who have come to me for softball skills lessons, were then introduced to the weight room, and ended up moving onto being stars on their track teams instead. The confidence some athletes find in the weight room permeates all other aspects of their lives, not just their sports. I have seen even the timidest of athletes come alive when they set a personal best, or finally get their first full pull-up. It is worth investigating for your youth athlete, but it is worth investigating for yourself as well.