5 lessons learnt from working with young athletes

Working with young athletes has proven a rewarding and constantly challenging pursuit, something we have developed a great passion for.
It’s gives us great purpose in knowing we can have a long lasting impact on a young persons life through sharing our passion for training.
Here are a few things we have encountered so far on our journey into working with young people.

1 – Never expect perfection

Just like any passionate coach we love great technique and are always more impressed by it than numbers lifted on a bar, especially when it comes to working with young athletes. We pride ourselves on the quality of our young guys technique as opposed to how much weight they lift.
However, when first starting to work with a new young athlete we cannot expect execution of prefect technique straight away.
All young athletes posses different levels of coordination and are at different stages of their growth so all move very differently.
The priority is to work within safe realms with regards to load and intensity and from our experience, over time, coordination and technique will improve tenfold simply through repeated repetition and ‘practice.’
If we spend all of our training time trying to execute perfect reps we are potentially wasting valuable skill practice time as well as leaving the young athlete feeling inadequate and incapable, knocking their confidence and putting them off their training (it goes without saying that our aim is to do the opposite).


2- The plan rarely goes to plan

Young athletes are constantly living with and face various life stressors, all of which can have a big impact on their training day to day.
Issues at school, with friends, with family, exams etc, can all have a big impact on a young athletes focus and the way we approach training will need to be adapted sometimes as a result of these.
Pushing a young athlete too hard during periods of stress could lead to burn out and potentially a loss of interest in training all together.
That’s why we say have a plan, but never be afraid to deviate massively from that plan.
Countless times we have had intentions to do X,Y and Z and at the start of a session have realised we need to do change tactics and execute A,B and C.
Remember having fun is always one of the main goals of any session. Squats and Deadlifts with a tired group of young athletes stressed out about their exams and in the middle of a falling out with friends may not be your best idea. Some steady training and a game of dodgeball to destress could be just what they need.

3- Young athletes struggle with motivation just like adults do

Similar to our last point, as much as we may assume kids are young and care free that isn’t always the case.
As much as we all wish we were young again and able to just train all day everyday and not worry about work, bills and other grown up stuff, it just isn’t that easy.
Just as we see with adults, young people can struggle with motivation to.
This is why we reiterate time and time again that the training environment should be an enjoyable place. Intense, military style training with a group of demotivated young athletes is a recipe for a training disaster.
Keep training purposeful with a strong focus on fun. We often give our young athletes a choice (within reason) on what they’d like to work on/do. By doing this they feel like they are in control and therefore are much more motivated during the session.



4- Growth and maturation is complex sh*t that needs to be understood

Growth and maturation is super important and needs to be well understood by any coach. Puberty is a time where a young athlete goes through numerous changes and their training needs will need to be adjusted throughout this period.
It’s not uncommon to see a young person grow a few inches in a matter of weeks/months (trunk length can grow 15% during puberty)  and there are therefore many training considerations that need to be accounted for during this time.
(This is a whole other blog post of its own).
Get yourself familiar with the physiological changes that occur during puberty, understand Peak Height Velocity, how to calculate it and what important information it can give us as coaches and what needs to occur  in their training while this is happening.


5- Prioritising Long term development is key to success

As a coach it is our responsibility to have the best long term interests for our young athletes. We have a large role to play in their success and must be selfless in this act. Everything we do should be for the athletes long term success and the way we approach training and every decision we make from day one should affect this.
We are not interested in having decorated athletes at youth level who then end up with overuse injuries, burn out or simply get bored and lose interest in their chosen sport altogether.
We must prioritise long term development and not get carried away chasing numbers too soon into an athletes career. Things like technique and other important phases of training can end up being skipped or rushed due to a mindless pursuit of immediate success. We as coaches working with young athletes are investing in the long game.
So when working with young people always make decisions based upon their long term development over trying to gain some short term satisfaction that could be detrimental for them in the long run.


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