The Missing Ingredient in Youth Physical Development

Why This Form Of Training Needs Renewed Attention

Late in 2016, a new “Youth Physical Development Model” was released. The model was developed by Dr Rhodri Lloyd and Dr Jon Oliver of Cardiff Metropolitan University, recognised as two world-leading experts in the field, and is based on evidence that shows that participants of both genders are responsive to training throughout childhood and adolescence.

The model suggests the training and activities that children should do at each stage of their development. It provides a wonderful road map for coaches, teachers and parents to follow.

Strength Training

A key difference to previous long-term athlete development models is its emphasis on the prioritisation of strength training at every stage of an athlete’s career. Strength training is an ingredient currently missing from many youth sports settings.

The development of strength is crucial from the outset.

The model recommends that the development of strength should be a crucial part of training from the outset, including with pre-pubertal athletes. It suggests that developing strength should be seen as a priority throughout an athlete’s development, regardless of age or gender.

This is a huge shift in thinking compared to a time when it was recommended that strength training should only become a priority after a child’s growth spurt (or “Peak Height Velocity”) had occurred.

It has been found, however, that a child’s strength capabilities are trainable at all stages. Young athletes from both genders respond to strength training through childhood and adolescence.

Why Children Need Strength Training

Research shows that strength contributes heavily to the development of fundamental movement skills. Other research has directly linked strength with speed, power, agility, plyometric ability and endurance. It has also been found that strength helps to avoid sports related injuries.

It makes sense that strength development in young athletes should be seen in a new light and given renewed attention.

Far from any formal, gym-based programs, it is suggested that early on, athletes are taught to perform body weight exercises with good control.  These skills can include forming and holding body shapes (e.g. pikes and tucks) and positions (e.g. squats and front supports) and imitating animal movements (such as crawling like a crocodile) to develop their strength capabilities.

Coaches of young athletes should prioritise strength training over other forms of development.

A Missing Ingredient

With the Youth Physical Development Model as their rationale, coaches should prioritise strength training over other forms of development. This type of training, however, is sadly missing from many youth coaching programs. Young athletes are being introduced to sport specific skills without the necessary base of fundamental movement skills and strength competencies. Short-term results driven agendas dominate over long-term development, leading to a rush to fill programs with sport-specific skills. The teaching of fundamental movement skills and strength training gets lost and is often bypassed and neglected. Importantly, it now appears that a lack of strength will compromise the development of fundamental movement skills, which will negatively impact the development of sports specific skills.

Let’s Get Kids Strong

It is not suggested that strength development become the entire content of a youth development program, but what a enormous positive difference it would make if its contribution to long-term sports involvement was more widely recognised by coaches, parents and sports organisations.

Let’s get strength training back on the coaching curriculum. Let’s teach youth coaches about how to appropriately and effectively develop strength in kids. Let’s put measures in place to combat all of the myths and misconceptions about the topic and give strength training the renewed attention that it deserves.

Learn more about the Youth Physical Development Model by viewing the following animation.

Further reading


Recommended Reading For Coaches: “Conditioning Young Athletes”

Awesome Medicine Ball Ideas For Coaches of Young Athletes

If this post helped you please take a moment to help others by sharing it on social media. If you want to learn more I encourage you to leave questions and comments or contact me directly.

Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes, and founder of the blog Learn more about him here and connect with him on TwitterFacebookLinkedin, or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube, the Coaching Young Athletes podcast, and the Coaching Young Athletes E-Book Series.

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