So you are a young athlete between the ages of 10 and 18 and you are wondering about what on earth you can do to further separate yourself from the pack. Your skill work is coming along nicely, but you still feel like you are getting beaten by other kids who are bigger, faster, stronger, react quicker. This is a common theme for many kids who just don’t quite make the cut often because fact of the matter is…. They are slow, or they can’t jump as high, or they are getting out muscled in key moments. Those who are well developed in speed, strength, power, agility and coordination often dominate most sports.
So let’s look at points of development that we want to emphasize for all developing youth athletes looking to gain that athletic edge as well as some of the tools and activities I use to get them going.
These are your basic patterns of movement that underlie every athletic task an athlete will be doing and what most gym programs are based around improving.
- Hinge / Deadlift
- Rotation & Antirotation
It is important for kids to learn these patterns at a young age, and then progressively advance them as they grow through integrated and unilateral movements that further aid strength and motor control heightening kinesthetic awareness.
All sports are different but some common themes for ball sports are as follows:
- Power (Ability to produce force quickly)
- Agility (Ability to shift weight and position in reaction to a stimulus)
- Change of direction
- Acceleration / Deceleration
For example looking at my primary sport: Basketball we would focus in on the following areas:
- Plyometrics – training the stretch shortening cycle in muscle groups through a 3 stage process that ensures the athlete maintains stability whilst becoming super efficient at producing high amounts of force quickly in order to accelerate and decelerate in the horizontal (Driving), lateral(Sliding), and vertical(Jumping) planes.
- Absorb:Teaching athletes how to absorb force and land stable (Eccentric moment)
- React: Teaching athletes how to produce force quickly upon ground contact by training muscles to utilize their elastic potential energy (isometric moment)
- Explode: Training athletes to produce more force to propel them in the direction they want to go (Concentric moment)
- Change of direction drills (standard and reaction based) – Improving the athletes ability to transition from one direction/one plane through to another. We do this through a variety of drills emphasizing movement combinations as well as reactionary stimuli to add an agility component.
- Shuttles (sliding / running)
- Tennis ball drills involving catching
- Cone drills
- Live competitive games
- Weight lifting sequences – diving into the movement patterns mentioned above to improve the base level of strength and motor control.
An often overlooked element of athletic development at young ages – for the reason of “your young, you should be flexible.” When kids hit puberty and go through high rates of growth, a loss of mobility often comes with this. Mobility can be defined through 2 key aspects:
- Range of motion – through muscles and joints
- Motor control – ability to maintain stability throughout range of motion.
Many kids easily lack one or both of the above, leading to a loss or lack of energy production in their movements as well as a higher risk of injury through not being able to maintain stability throughout their movement.
So how do we develop this aspect?
- Foundational motor pattern work: as mentioned above, we teach kids how to maintain a stable position throughout the base movements.
- Dynamic exercises to improve range of motion (ROM): utilizing bands, compression or bodyweight you can challenge muscles and joints to move through ROM and with consistent work, bring about adaptations.
- Muscle Recovery – PNF stretching & Foam Rolling: Releasing glued tissues and aiding with blood flow, we teach important “maintenance” activities to improve ROM as well as help the body feel better in light of the bumps and grinds of competitive sport.
There is plenty of attention and planning that goes into an athlete’s development, and every athlete needs to be working on the above if they want to gain an athletic edge or even just close a gap between them and those above. While there will always be genetic differences, and everyone has their strengths and weaknesses at every level, there is always something you can do to improve your game and propel yourself to that next level….. It’s just about how much you want it and how keenly you go out and gain the knowledge & tools that will get you there.
Catch you next time! - Coach Zac