Youth Strength and Conditioning – York Athletics Club
Strength and conditioning for younger athletes has gained more and more popularity over the past few years, thanks to a better understanding of the benefits that appropriate training can elicit.
Just over 4 weeks ago, I started working with a fantastic group of youth athletes from York Athletics Club, aged between 11 – 14 years old. In the first week we had 60+ young athletes. By the second week, we had over 90 kids attending the session, which was brilliant!
Before I go through an overview of what we’ve been doing and why, I wanted to highlight the current research and findings of S&C/athletic development for young athletes to give an idea of why I feel so strongly about the benefits that this training can bring!
In 2009, the UKSCA (UK Strength and Conditioning Association) who are the professional body for Strength and Conditioning in the UK, released a position statement on ‘Youth Resistance Training’. This document (http://phwb-project.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/UKSCA-Position-Statement-Final.pdf) was put together by a collection of the World’s leading experts from paediatric exercise science, physical education, elite sport and sports medicine.
The key findings from the UKSCA were that:
- “…parents, teachers and coaches should recognise the potential health-related benefits of resistance exercise (S&C training)…athletes who do not participate in activities that enhance muscle strength and movement skills, may be at increased risk for negative health outcomes later in life”
- “Well designed S&C programmes are not only safe for young athletes but may also reduce sport-related injuries..with the potential to reduce overuse injuries by up to 50%…”
- “An appropriately designed S&C programme can improve motor skills…and enhance sports performance”
- “…traditional fears and misinformed concerns that resistance training would damage the developing skeleton, have been replaced with reports indicating that childhood may be the opportune time to build bone mass and enhance bone structure…”
- The caveat to the above is that “it is imperative that suitably qualified personnel are responsible for coaching and instruction of youth-based resistance training programmes. Such qualifications would include a relevant strength and conditioning qualification (for example, the Accredited Strength and Conditioning Coach (ASCC) status)…” (don’t worry, this is a qualification I have held for several years now!)
These findings are supported by several other authors who have reported the physical and psychosocial benefits of S&C training:
“…data indicates that engaging in age-appropriate, strength training programmes may have a beneficial impact on psychosocial perception and possibly defend against negativity and depressive states”
“...it is generally accepted that childhood offers a key time frame in which to learn and improve fundamental movement patterns and develop neuromuscular coordination…”
(Moody et al., 2014 and French et al., 2014)
A leading authority on youth athletic development is Kelvin Giles who has worked as UK National and Olympic Track & Field Coach. He is a coach to 14 Olympic and World Championship athletes over a 40-year career (but has held various other positions in sport too, find out more here – http://www.movementdynamics.com/about/).
Kelvin’s approach to athletic development is World class and is based around developing a physical literacy vocabulary. He states that,
“…no matter what sport you do, whether you need to run, kick, throw, jump, strike or catch etc., you need a movement vocabulary that includes the ability to squat, lunge, hinge, push, pull, rotate, brace and land…those are the foundation movements“
He goes on to state that as athletes progress to the top level,
“…the sport demands that every athlete needs to be able to perform these movements in every plane, in every direction, at every speed, at every amplitude, against every force…”
Kelvin’s approach makes so much sense to me and is a common sense approach to developing athletes from the youth development level.
“Make them great movers first, then they become great athletes, then they can decide which event structure is most suited to them or where their heart and soul is…”
I would highly recommend listening to Kelvin being interviewed last year in the link below, his passion for coaching is fantastic and very infectious!
OK, back to the Youth S&C sessions with the York Athletics Club…
So with all of this information in mind, I have designed each training session to give each young athlete the opportunity to develop these fundamental movement skills in a fun and (hopefully!) engaging way! We have a short window of time with a huge group of athletes so each element of the session has been carefully considered in order to get the ‘biggest bang for our buck’.
The warm-up is an ideal opportunity to introduce movements such as squatting, lunging, jumping, landing and crawling. It also gives me a chance to see how well they are moving and coach individuals as we go.
The main section is broken down into a circuit format with the focus being on performing the given exercise with sound technique and avoiding the temptation to rush through with poor execution. The circuit format allows a large number of athletes to be exposed to multiple fundamental movements and challenges, but also prevents the young athletes losing focus/attention during the session. There are various levels of progression/regression for each station exercise which allows individuals to progress if they have demonstrated sound technique and ‘earnt the right to progress’.
The session includes various fundamental movement skills but also movement challenges such as crawling over various height hurdles with both their hands and feet to allow that all-so important connection between the upper and lower body (crucial in many sporting movements, think throwing, running, striking etc. where the movement starts from the ground up) and also offer a cognitive, problem solving element.
Every 3-4 weeks I introduce a small number of new exercise variations such as single leg versions or include throwing/catching tasks into a hopping or jumping task to increase the complexity. This allows the young athletes to stay engaged and exposes them to new motor skill challenges.
So far the sessions have been running really well and the athletes who regularly attend have started to develop increasing competence with the all-important fundamental movement skills discussed earlier (squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull, brace, rotate, land).
I have been fortunate enough to have several athletics coaches/parents helping me to deliver the sessions on a weekly basis due to the HUGE number of kids attending, so a big thank you to them!
As an S&C coach, I am passionate about youth athletic development and I hope that the information I have shared in this article provides some insight into how beneficial youth S&C can be. In the coming weeks, I will be writing further blogs on how the York athletes are progressing and also further information about athletic development for youth athletes so stay tuned!
Thanks for reading!
About Rob Milner:
Rob Milner is an Accredited Strength and Conditioning Coach with the UKSCA (ASCC) with many years’ experience of helping clients achieve their performance, fitness and nutrition goals. Rob leads the Strength and Conditioning programme at York Sport, working with the high performance Scholarship athletes and Focus Sport teams from the University of York. These sports include rowing (including support for the GB Rowing Start coach), rugby union, lacrosse, futsal, football, swimming, water polo, athletics, boxing and triathlon. He has also worked with clubs including Bradford Bulls Academy, York RUFC 1st team, Tadcaster’s Youth Performance Swim Squad, Leeds Rowing Club, as well as recreational and performance athletes.