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A mate of mine sent me a message asking for training advise for coaching his young son and his football team, which I replied to and gave him some of the very successful methods used at Grind Hard Fitness with juniors and young athletes. 

This left me thinking about how many parents are out their helping with children’s sporting development and in the same situation, hence the advice, ideas and methods in this article.

Now I reckon most people are going to try and pre-empt this and assume I’m going to go down the ‘don’t let children lift weights as it can effect their growth etc’ if that is the case you are wrong. 

However, I am not going to goes as far as to say the complete opposite either as their are too many variables when training juniors. 

Children and young people develop at very different rates, have spurts at different times, have different sporting backgrounds, diverse genetics etc etc. 

For that reason there is not a one size fits all method to training these age groups (just like pretty much everything else in relation to fitness and nutrition) any coach worth their weight will agree with this statement. 

However, look at the following points logically and we can identify what a junior/young athlete requires.

  • The majority of serious injuries with young athletes are NOT usually from contact. They are from an internal weakness/instability leading to a strain, tear, pull or dislocation.

Yes, the dead legs happen, noses get burst, they take a footy boot to the nuts, but these are the usual expectation of playing sport. These incidents will not usually lead to any damage or disfunction long term. A knee or shoulder dislocation however, will have a huge impact on an athletic career. 

How do we avoid this or minimise the risk??? 

Simple and logical answer, we strengthen the joints and the surrounding muscle groups and prepare them for the stress they are likely to endure in the young persons chosen sports. 

To generalise, most young people take part in a sport or hobby which includes running and change of direction, therefore the joints in the lower part of the body, Hips, knees, ankles need to be strengthened and trained to absorb force.

  • Young children tend to like DOING and TRYING not listening and learning.

For that reason trying to explain correct body mechanics and the technical application of force to a six year old is going to become frustrating and unsuccessful fairly quickly. As a coach, I have found that setting challenges within the movement are a good way to get kids to perfect technique. For example, if I have children doing suicide sprints a.k.a shuttle runs (running back and forward between various cone lines) the challenge may be to keep the straightest line whilst doing the shuttles. The child with the most linear sprint (neatest line) gets to pick an exercise for the coach and other kids to do. So, coaching methods have to change with various age groups and individuals.

  • Positive movement and loading patterns are the base of all types of athletic development.

For this reason, a foundation of strength is paramount, then comes the ability to apply that strength through movement. This doesn’t mean you must train children to squat and deadlift an amazing amount of weight, not that that is an unacceptable way to train SOME young people that have shown years of skill and earned the right to progress, but its not what I am referring to. I am talking about a child being able to body weight/Kettle bell squat whilst creating internal tension so they have full control over their speed and muscular activation in the movement. Other functional things maybe to safely pick up a load using a hingeing pattern, hang and hold or pull up to a bar, carry weight in a controlled manor over short range distance. 

  • Kids want to run before they can walk

This is one of the reasons I like training young athletes, they always want to be able to do the best/coolest/hardest progressions of everything, seeing such ambition and drive is awesome. This, however, can be a recipe for disaster and it is where I have seen a lot of other coaches go wrong. Progressions and regressions are there for a reason and its the easy option for a coach to let kids do things with bad form and poor movement patterns because its what they want to do and they like it. I am not against anyone that would like to try a more advanced movement to gain empathy so they realise what hard work it will take to get to the fully progressed movement/lift, within reason of course, but when we are looking at injury prevention and building a solid foundation for a young athlete the correct boxes need to be ticked off in the right order otherwise injury will occur or strength will be developed on top of dysfunctional movement. This will lead to limited athletic development, body imbalance, poor performance and bad body mechanics (not quality of an athlete Im sure you’ll agree).

  • Kids are clumsy 

Its not their fault. I have had countless parents tell me how clumsy their child is, how bad their balance is or that they are accident prone. If you woke up and your limbs and torso had changed length for the 3rd time that month, you would struggle to adapt to it too. As previously stated, young people develop at different rates and the brain is asking the body to do tasks but due to all types of development the body parts are different lengths, shapes and sizes and is constantly changing. During play or sport these movements are often performed at speed, up high or on top of, or around objects or players. This obviously makes the chance of an accident increase. With athletic development, strength training and co-ordination drills the body will become much more efficient and the young athlete will become much more aware of their body and how to help it function optimally. 

So, the above are some key issues to be aware of when looking to coach children and young people. Again, its difficult to be super specific due to the variables but I will give my opinion and experience of some great ways to build an athletic base.


1 – Build a foundation of bodyweight strength and movement, look to develop the following

  • Solid bodyweight squat whilst holding tension, stability, full range of movement and control the speed of the movement
  • Hollow back gymnastics plank – 60 second hold
  • Solid push up from plank position keeping tension throughout the movement 
  • Static hang from a bar – 45 seconds
  • Pull up from a dead hang
  • Pulling on a horizontal plane for example rowing whilst maintaining scapular stability and control
  • Carrying weight with good posture, could be in the hands, hugging with the arms, stabilising it overhead, keep it controlled and keep it focused on the engagement of the core 

2 – Incorporate strength, balance and control into various motions, here are some good methods 

  • Animalistic based movements, bear crawls, crab walks, lizard crawls. Always prompting controlled action and core engagement and of course fun.
  • Play dynamic games, tag, stuck in the mud and develop the games so its team based, maybe coaches join in. 
  • Reaction drills – responding to audio, visual and kinetic cues 
  • Body co-ordination drills – Handstand, wheel barrows, fireman carries, there are many variations individually and with a partner.

3 – Teach how to decelerate and accelerate 

  • As discussed most children and young people play sport that has them running and changing direction. The more powerful the child becomes the more stress is placed on the body when speed is applied. Learning to DECELERATE is an important skill as many injuries are caused by a sharp stop, change of, or twist in direction. Learning to decelerate correctly will help the body absorb force and place less stress on it or at least deal with that stress more effectively and efficiently. 
  • Under the supervision of a coach apply positive sprint mechanics
  • Use plyometric training (explosive movement/jump training) to learn to apply and absorb force to generate strength at speed.
  • Push, pull or drag weight. This will increase the resistance of a sprint helping to build power, it is also a much safer than sprinting as the young athlete is moving at a much slower pace and minimises common sprinting injuries such as an over stride not to mention the athlete will not be moving fast enough to be injured by poor declaration technique.

4 – Core development is paramount, 

Stabilising the spine and providing strength to the mid section will improve health, posture, strength, athletic ability and will nearly always have a great transfer over to all sports 

  • Use all variations of carries
  • Pursue balance work
  • Low level gymnastics drills and positions 
  • Unilateral work (working one limb at a time) e.g. – split squats

5 – Make it fun but coach calls the shots

  • Use games 
  • Set challenges 
  • Allow competition
  • Be supportive
  • Get involved and lead by example
  • Build a positive relationship 
  • Make it clear why the exercise will benefit the young athlete and what they will get from doing it with optimal performance.
  • Be positive and have a genuine interest in their goals

Obviously, this is just touching the tip of the iceberg, but never the less, hopefully there are some take aways from this article which will open the minds of parents and sports coaches to help keep their young players safe, strong and functional using some resistance training methods. 

If your child is performing at a higher level and wishes to pursue as an athlete I would always strongly recommend that you look into getting them strength and condition coaching as it will put them streets ahead and keep them of the subs bench for sure.

Now that you are armed with some solid advice, go and create yourself some safe, solid and higher performing young athletes.

Keep up the Grind,

Coach Chris McClarence

Contact me here

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