The youth football season is about to get underway for the Surrey Youth League. Over the past six weeks NK Fitness have enjoyed working with Ascot United U15 squad. Over a 6 week period the aim was to prepare the squad for the upcoming season. Here, experienced youth strength and conditioning coach, Nathan Kelly highlights the philosophy applied and lessons learned.
Think ground up with youth team sports conditioning
Before contemplating improvements in speed, agility, strength and endurance take a step back. Youth squads are likely to contain athletes at different stages of maturation. In an U15 squad there will be some athletes who are young men and other who remain prepubescent. It can be tough for both types of athlete and the S&C coach must be aware of this. Physically immature athletes may struggle with the contact aspects of the game. Their conditioning focus may therefore require more time spent developing strategies to use their hips and feet to counteract potential size and strength differences. Conversely, the athlete experiencing their growth spurt may struggle to coordinate their new long limbs, and typically looks very awkward with their movement. Focussing upon basic movements such as skips, hops and jumps can help them through this period.
Regardless of development stage of the athlete, the overriding philosophy of youth team sports conditioning must be to keep players healthy. Employ exercises that promote safe, efficient movement and build robustness.
Promote self sufficiency in youth team sports conditioning
Learning and understanding must also be promoted. Having athletes simply do as they are told is not good enough. Starting with the basic foundation movements in the early weeks allows young athletes to develop consistent skilled movement. As early as week 3 athletes were encouraged to lead their own warm ups using drills introduced in the first two weeks. They are then given increasing responsibility as weeks progress. This approach allows youth strength and conditioning coaches to see how much individual athletes are learning. It’s also a non-intimidating way of demonstrating learning, as players can learn indirectly by watching others.
At the end of pre-season training we need young players to be able to perform these drills by themselves as they move into the competitive season.
All roads lead to performance
Everything must benefit performance. If improvements do not transfer to competition then they are a waste of time. In the latter weeks of the programme we introduced more football related work. This includes the introduction of the ball. Getting the ball involved is important but it comes at a cost. The intensity drops. Individual skill levels become a factor and have a massive influence upon the physical intensity that a player can maintain. The simplest example is that players cannot run as fast with the ball at their feet. If drills involve more than one player then intensity can drop if players fail to control the ball. Youth teams sports conditioning that involves the ball must be kept simple if intensity needs to be high.
We look forward to seeing Ascot United’s hard work pay off this coming season.