When talking about player development, just how much training and how much high intensity work should an athlete at any given age be doing? It is a question which I find is most riddled in assumptions on both an individual athlete level and on the macro coach/parent level.
I know plenty of young athletes who do not work hard enough to inevitably develop to a level in which they can compete in a senior A / premier level team, or give themselves the opportunity to take basketball places in their adult life (despite having the dream for these things).
I also know plenty of young athletes who constantly push, everyday another one or two or three high intensity training sessions – always pursuing the grind and finding another avenue to get on the court for some work. Many of these athletes push themselves into the danger zone of burnout or injury which in the worst cases, leads to an early exit from the sport.
So what is the ideal amount of training for a developing youth athlete to maximise their chances of progressing into a sporting career after school?
I am going to look at this through a couple of aspects in regards to training practices.
The amount of physical volume an athlete can manage depends largely on:
- Their current stage of Physical Maturation – An athlete which is undergoing a high level of musculo-skeletal growth is not one who should be maximising high intensity training volume into the 10s of hours per week. An athlete who has finished the majority of their growing (into Tanner Stage 4+) can start to ramp up the hours. General scientific guidelines specify no more hours than your age of high intensity, organised contact time.
- Their current level of Motor Control and Mobility in a wide range of movements – At the young age this is easiest developed by playing a wide variety of sports to develop a versatile foundation of skilled movements. As they get older hitting teenage years this can also be developed through the weight room.
- Their current level of both General and Sport Specific Strength – Having the base level of strength to safely resist repeated impact from running, changing direction, jumping and landing, hundreds, sometimes thousands of times per week I would say is rare at young ages. In fact, thinking Basketball, many young ballers in their junior high school years quickly develop the ability to out jump the strength they have to land safely from that particular height.
Essentially, to increase your training volume safely from a physical perspective you need a combination of: increased physical maturation, improved motor control & improved strength through various motor patterns. Every individual is different, which is why parents and coaches need to be aware of the physical limitations that their kids have at their current stage of development and help improve areas where they can. All kids need to be made aware of what they need to be working on now, as well as what they need to be patient with, to realise their dreams for the future.
Once you conquer the physical requirements to manage your optimal and desired workload, you still have to battle with the harsh realities of Mental Capacity.
Youth athletes are people, not robots. As they go from week to week, they have to deal with the throws of school commitments, social commitments, sporting commitments and these days, the constant distractions of technology and social media. Quite often a decrease in performance can be from mental fatigue as much as anything else. Some things to consider here are ensuring that the athlete maintains high level of general health and well-being through:
- Sleep – get your 8-10hours a night of solid sleep as a growing teenager.
- Nutrition – Eating well and hitting your macros, eating sufficient calories to sustain your workload.
- Disconnection from the court/field at some stage – either through social outings or through different hobbies.
- Up to date on work or school? – If things aren’t done and deadlines are approaching the mind is not at ease, the additional stress can cause distraction, and even loss of sleep… especially if you have to stay up late to finish something last minute before getting up for an early morning workout! This one is your classical time management lecture!
So, when I look at the phrase “don’t cheat the grind” – I don’t think work your ass off every waking minute and be on court/field as much as possible taking no days off ever. I am thinking work hard and work smart.
- A rest day should be planned in as part of the weekly grind, used purposefully and strategically.
- Scale your volume to match your current capabilities.
- Vary up your training / sports by adding gym sessions or a sport that uses different muscle groups to develop weaker areas so you can improve your volume capacity for your main sport.
- Periodize your workloads week to week/month to month to keep fresh for big games & tournaments by deloading leading up to them.
- Get good sleep.
- Get out and socialise a bit from time to time or find another hobby to disconnect with.
- Recover properly from Injuries.
It is about keeping yourself physically and mentally healthy, so that when you step on the court you are in the right space to work your ass off and enjoy doing it!
So to answer the question – How much and how hard should one train if they want to make it?
Consider the individual. How old? How physically mature? How skilled in movement are they? How strong are they? Putting together all their commitments combined will they be able to manage a healthy body and mind?
The best athletes are healthy, strong and fresh of mind – ready to conquer their trainings/games!
Consider the individual – Plan and work accordingly!
Catch you next time! - Coach Zac