One of the most important points that coaches and parents need to be aware of when working with young athletes is the difference between an adult’s body and the developing body of a child or teenager.
While it may be hard for some to remember what it was like living in a smaller, growing body, it’s essential that we acknowledge the limitations so we can help younger athletes reach higher expectations.
As parents and coaches, we need to be cognizant of some general areas of conditioning specific to relevant age groups.
Kids learn the very basic aspects of sports during the elementary school years (ages 5 to 10). At this age, things like flexibility, motor skills, hand-eye coordination and balance are being fine tuned. Regardless of specific sports, you can encourage athletic development through general drills that focus on:
The basic areas of growth we want to target for athletes, and young people in general for daily functioning include: strength, endurance, flexibility and coordination.
Strength training for this age group is quite simple. A child’s body weight is an acceptable amount of resistance to support growth of healthy bones and muscle mass. If you plan to implement an actual strength/conditioning program involving resistance or weights, be very careful that you research proper limitations and safety guidelines.
Endurance is one of the easiest areas to train with children. Give them a ball of some kind and off they go, astounding us with their seemingly endless amount of energy.
Not all kids are created equal physically, however, and this is one of the important areas of development, as it will challenge you as a coach/parent to identify differences.
Every child can build up endurance and it’s one of the fundamental aspects to improvement in sports. It’s important to encourage participation in sports and physical activities. In time, the more kids participate the more their endurance will develop.
This may require some creativity to keep kids motivated and to keep things fun and interesting. It’s important to be aware that pushing a child too far can lead to negative outcomes such as the child developing a fear or even a dislike of physical activity. If little Johnny and Brenda are tiring out but you want the other kids to continue, be creative. If doing a soccer drill, have them shag balls from behind the net; if doing layups in basketball, have them pass the balls to the players in line.
Most kids at this age are like putty and can bend and twist themselves into shapes that make us adults wince. The key goal for this age group is to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Stress the importance of stretching so that kids will develop a routine and get in the habit of stretching before physical activity. Stretching can help prevent injury and increase flexibility.
Developing a stretching routine early on will help kids succeed as teen and adult athletes, when stretching will play a larger role for injury management and performance.
This is one of those skills where repetition is your best friend. At this age, try, try, try again is a common theme. Hand-eye coordination, running, jumping, catching-so many of the things we take for granted as we get older, can be difficult to grasp at this age. Vary your practice/drills to encompass different levels of coordination. It’s also important to focus on different aspects of coordination and not just focus on one task or skill. This is an easy trap to fall into-basketball coaches may focus too much on shooting, soccer coaches on scoring, football coaches on catching, etc.
Discouragement is a key area to be wary of, as you will find a vast range of skill levels. A large number of kids at this age quit sports altogether because they struggle with different skills such as catching, throwing or shooting.
You can help kids avoid negative feelings and attitudes by staying positive, providing positive feedback, and encouraging them to keep trying. If you have a few kids who just can’t catch a basketball without dropping it, maybe have them stand closer, or bounce it first. Find something they can do and slowly build up from there.
The main thing to remember at this age is that kids have, for the most part, an abundance of energy. They want to play, run, throw, kick a ball, and try new sports. Mold that energy around these areas of conditioning and give them a solid foundation for a lifetime of sports and healthy activity.