Specific youth conditioning is a hotly debated topic. The physical education and scientific world advocate against early specialisation. However, the reality in sport is often quite different. Models of long term athlete development, based upon the empirical research of sports coaches in the old Eastern bloc, suggest that a young athletes should play a variety of sports when they are young. This breadth gives them chance to acquire a broad base of sports skills that enable them to excel in later life. Despite this, it is common to see talented young athletes engaged in sports specific activities almost daily for those in recognised performance programmes. So how can specific youth conditioning help these early specialising athletes?
In addition to the early sports specialist there are the sporting all rounders. These talented youngsters are good at a several sports. As a result, they get asked to play in loads of different teams across the week, leaving no time for specific youth conditioning. So how can these two contrasting youngsters get the most from their sporting talent? Here we look at how to incorporate strength and conditioning into the schedule of the busy and high performing young athlete.
Specific youth conditioning can plug the gaps
Models of youth sports development agree that for most sports, excelling at a later age is more likely if they start out playing a variety of sports. Playing lots of sports teaches a wide range of sports skills and tactics. It also allows the young athlete to choose a sport to specialise in when they are older. Too much specialist training early on can increase the risk of overuse injury, burnout and dropout from the sport. Those young athletes who are lucky enough to gain a place at an academy find themselves with busy sports schedules. The level of strength and conditioning support in these pathways is varied.
The strength and conditioning coach can’t do anything about the amount of sports specific training an athlete does. Some set ups will have set ups that allow the S&C specialist to input into training plan balance etc. However, many youngsters can be left in the dark. The S&C coach can use fitness training as way of plugging gaps in the athletes programme. If a schedule is heavily biased toward sport specific training the the S&C coach can programme general training that works the athlete in different ways. The specific youth conditioning programme is replacing that other sports would usually play in development.
Making room for specific youth conditioning
When it comes to the young athlete with a busy schedule finding time for extra training can be tough. Here, the youth strength and conditioning coach needs to think outside of the box a little. When working with elite track and field athletes our good friend Dr Stephen Ingham, then Head of Physiology at the English Institute of Sport, had a great idea. The busy training schedule of an elite heptathlete wouldn’t allow for more running. However, coach, athlete and Dr Ingham knew that they needed more tempo running in the programme. With no room for a further session they opted to build it into the warm up for an existing session. Over the course of months the athlete accumulated much needed time at the desired running intensities. Mission accomplished. The athlete in question is Jessica Ennis.
Busy young athletes will have plenty of opportunity to build specific youth conditioning drills into their warm ups, without creating large increases in training volume. This is the approach that we take with many of the young athletes that we work with at NK Fitness. Rather than doing the same warm up all of the time we can vary it to increase exposure to a variety of drills and activities that over time will improve sports performance. Contact NK Fitness for further information.