What age should an athlete begin a strength and conditioning program?

Written by: Coach Andrea

Picture this (or, if it’s reality, think about this): you have a young, eager athlete ready to break into the fitness and sports world. While you’re happy that they’re happy, part of you is worried that they may not be able to handle that intense tackle on the football field or the rigors of cheerleading or gymnastics, or they weren’t blessed with the natural coordination and athletic ability. 

A common question Coach Tyndall gets asked by parents is, “At what age is it okay for my child to start strength training?” There’s no quick answer to this, but what she can offer is the Top 10 things to consider when thinking about starting a strength and conditioning training program for your child!

  1. Your child’s physical and mental readiness 

Some programs will incorporate basic strength exercises that you might see in your local gym or conditioning regimes that they remember doing in high school…but children are not miniature adults—physically, mentally, or motivationally. If kids are going to run, jump, or crash into others, it’s a good idea to make sure that they are physically ready to meet those challenges.

  1. If your child’s physical ability is limiting any technical development

Can your athlete touch their toes or squat down without limbs going all over the place?  Lack of balance, control, and flexibility can be significant limiting factors for speed, power, mobility, and endurance.

  1. If any technical talent/skill surpassed any physical ability

With the introduction of year round club sports, many young athletes are developing skills and techniques that their developing bodies cannot handle, leading to injuries.  Whether it’s the prevalence of young soccer players tearing their ACL or baseball pitchers suffering overuse injuries, many young and undeveloped bodies are often unprepared to absorb the hits, stabilize joints, or control deceleration. 

  1. The increase in training volume

When a child goes from one practice and game per week to multiple sessions, not only does the intensity ramp up, but so does the volume of training. With an increase in training volume, you, as a parent, will want to make sure your child is ready to adapt to this kind of environment. 

  1. Your child’s history of injuries

Don’t let pain keep your child out of the game! If your child has already experienced injuries due to sport or an accident, it may be important to include a strength and conditioning program to regain lost strength, flexibility, or fitness.

  1. The consistent commitment to long-term training

If you or your child are looking to stay in the game long-term, consistency is key! Ensure your schedule aligns with the vigorous training you may need for your sport or in everyday life. And of course, that it fits into your schedule without feeling over-scheduled.

  1. The commitment also to other aspects of high performance

There’s the saying that we need at least eight hours of sleep for a reason: it’s important for our overall health. Getting in enough rest and the right kinds of food and supplements are crucial in the training atmosphere. Food and rest = fuel in your everyday strength and conditioning training program. 

  1. The quality and expertise of the strength and conditioning coach  

Children are not miniature adults, nor should their training be the same as what an adult would do. Growth spurts, puberty, and motivations make it important to ensure that exercises and programming are developmentally appropriate and delivered in a way that ensures your child will not only improve but also enjoy the experience.

  1. Best session size fit for your child

This goes back to knowing what your child wants and needs. Does your child thrive in a group or a 1-on-1 private training session environment? Is he/she wanting to do this training to have fun or to compete? Oftentimes, parents will schedule both private and group sessions to get the best of both worlds and see which works best. 

  1.  The process of creating lifelong positive healthy habits

Most importantly a strength and conditioning program should not contribute to the burn-out that is so prevalent in youth sports. It should complement their sport, but be enjoyable, educational, and help them excel in their sport.  Creating good habits such as warming-up, stretching,  moving efficiently, and having fun will help lead to lifelong health and activity habits.

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