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Training the Youth Athlete

There are many factors that go into developing a training program for the youth athlete. Typically youth athletes training has a 90% focus on game play and field skills and very little focus on general strength, speed, and agility. Youth training also needs to take into account proper rest and recovery time in between training and games. Throughout this post, I will be breaking down key components regarding youth training to optimize their performance.

Strength training the youth athlete

Strength training the youth athlete can be better categorized as neuromuscular training. Athletes ages 8 to 13 should be focusing on general movement mechanics, muscular control, and stability. At this age strength training does not need to include heavy lifting, as they are still growing and have not yet gone through puberty. Body weight or light weight exercises can help improve motor patterns and start to introduce the youth athlete into key components of strengthening. Once the athlete is old enough they can start to incorporate heavier loads and different training goals to be able to improve their performance. The youth athlete should also be working on improving single leg static and dynamic stability. Running, kicking, and jumping and landing involve use of single leg movements. Developing efficient neuromuscular control of single leg movements is key to decrease risk of injury. Lastly, neuromuscular training of plyometric patterns helps to develop proper jumping, landing and change of direction patterns. Proper progression from double leg movements to single leg movements can help to decrease risk of injury, improve agility, and maneuverability. Incorporating these types of exercises into a youth training program for 30 minutes a few times a week is a good introduction into strength training that can be progressed as the athlete physically matures and wants to continue to improve their game performance.

Rest and Recovery for the youth athlete

Over the past few years there has been a shift in youth athletics that creates a culture of continuous play and minimal rest. If kids are on multiple teams there is a chance they practice 4 days a week with potential for 3+ games a weekend. A schedule of this nature leaves little room for proper rest and recovery of the youth athlete. If this is the case, it is important to eat healthy, stay hydrated and most importantly have a good sleep schedule. If you are feeling run down or overwhelmed this is also a good time to take a step back and self reflect about the teams you are on. Think about decreasing to one team per season, talk to your parents and your coach about how you have been feeling, and remember, your mental and physical health are most important. It is best to talk through how you are feeling instead of pushing through fatigue as that can put you at risk for injury. Do not feel like you have to continue for the sake of the team, fear of being benched or fear of being cut from the team. If you are valued as a player you coach, teammates and parents will understand that you need to take a rest for your mental and physical health. To continue this discussion drop some questions in the forum and we can talk through it! Together we can change the future of women's soccer!

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