Guidelines For Frequency of Training For Kids
I am regularly asked by coaches and parents about how often per week a young athlete should train or practice.
The best guidelines that I have seen, and what I base my program on, come from the ATFCA (Australian Track and Field Coaches Association). The ATFCA recommends the following for athlete development:
ATFCA Guidelines for Training Progression
Under 6-8 1 competition 1 practice of 60 minutes
Under 9-10 1 competition 1 practice of 75 minutes
Under 11-12 1 competition 2 practices of 75 minutes
Under 13-15 1 competition 2 practices of 90 minutes
ATFCA states that these are “…guidelines and recommendations. The actual workload an athlete can cope with will depend on their physical maturity and training age (i.e. years of training experience).”
The above guidelines will surprise some people, as we all know that there are some kids doing far more than what is recommended here. There are, however, a number of reasons why I support these guidelines:
1. They show a clear and gradual progression
The guidelines show a clear, gradual, sensible progression in both the frequency and duration of practices as a young athlete grows and develops. A young athlete’s training load must be age-appropriate and any increase in training load must be done carefully and in small increments.
2. They take a conservative approach
Could a 14 year-old athlete cope with three practice sessions a week? Some probably could. But it is far better to under-train than to over-train a young athlete. Always err on the side of caution when it comes to a kid’s training load. Once or twice a week sessions are very manageable for a young athlete, whereas three or four times a week, while okay for a while, may eventually become unsustainable. When dealing with kids, the volume of training should not be a coach’s main strategy for improving performance. I always worry about young athletes who are “successful” in a sport, simply because they are “doing more” than others. There are many other variables that a coach can and should work with, including the type and complexity of activities done within a session.
3. Allowance of other activities
The guidelines leave room for other things in the young athlete’s (and parents’!) lives. The recommendations allow ample time for a young athlete to be involved in other sports and hobbies, get adequate rest and relaxation, and just be a kid. Training for a sport must never seem like a job or a chore.
4. Something is kept in reserve
Coaches and parents need to take a look at the big picture. They must consider how the current training load of a young athlete will affect and link up with what the athlete is doing in one, two, five or ten years time. I am an advocate for always leaving room for future increases in the frequency and volume of practice in case the athlete is capable of, and decides upon, pursuing higher performance levels as they mature. Training too frequently at a young age removes the variable of increasing training frequency in future years. For example, if a 12-year-old athlete is practicing six days a week, where will the increase in training frequency come from as they mature – seven days a week, with no recovery days? Coaches must hold their young athletes’ training back a little, for the benefit of future performance and ongoing involvement in the sport.
As ATFCA indicates, the guidelines are recommendations and are flexible. Minor deviations may be acceptable, however beware of a situation where athletes are being asked to commit themselves to a program that falls way outside the parameters listed above.
What are you thoughts?
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Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Anchor or via email.