At CrossFit Milford we have trained a ton of young, middle and older athletes. We have worked with children who are looking to start down a healthier journey, to sports teams, to the top CrossFit Athletes, all the way up to Olympic hopefuls. There is no greater feeling then working with focused and determined individuals (whether this is for a team, individual, or lifestyle). Each team that we work with eventually goes down the path of specializing for their sport, however there is a long journey before they can get there. For many team athletes (grades 7 – 10 and possibly up to 12) there needs to be a focus on a few different key concepts before they start getting specific with their training.
Too often parents or coaches think they need to specialize with their athletes in the weight room. They will often get their children in the weight room for the first time and automatically start talking about foot quickness drills, plyometrics and specializing in movement patterns. That is like asking someone who has never played baseball to stand in the box while Roger Clemens hurls a fastball at them. Sport specific training happens 5-10 years down the road for athletes (in their training age) and with those who are ready for it. However, for those elite athletes there is some cautionary steps due to not being over specific (since their practice and movement/skill prep is their sport specific).
Below I will outline just a few (in no order) so everyone can get the gist of what is truly needed for young athletes. This is the format we use for all our teams, as well as our All American wrestlers, college athletes and our olympic hopefuls. If your training age is five years or less, then the below is what you need to do. (training age being a true training age. Not a weight room age where you are doing bi’s and tri’s with no supervision).
1. General Physical Preparedness (GPP). This is the first foundation that needs to be worked on for all athletes. This is building their baseline fitness that will have carry over to every sport and everything they do. Specialization too early will lead to imbalances, and their bodies are not ready for that.
2. Structure and Stabilization (the two S’s). This takes time to build and is vital for all athletes who have not put time in the weight room. This builds their ability to sustain weight and load, prevent injury, as well as get their bodies to be lined up correctly.
3. Movement patterns. Don’t go off what the pro’s are doing. Remember, they are the pros. Children don’t need to squat and deadlift if they haven’t learned how to have hip flexion/knee flexion, hip hinge pattern’s ingrained in them.
4. Un-ilateral before bi-lateral. Work single leg, single arm movement patterns to build their balance between right and left side.
5. Layer their systems. Take the time to train their muscle fibers (type 1, 2a and 2b) when they are ready for different intensities.
6. Build their muscular contractions (eccentric, concentric, isometric) to be strong through all ranges.
7. Work on lots of loads and carries to improve (farm boy strength). This will ensure probably a stronger carry over onto the field.
8. Work on basic patterns of auditory and/or sensory start, stop, change and pace and change of direction patterns. Teach them how to react and not just get mechanically efficient through repetition (speed ladders are a no no).
9. First learn how to land before you learn how to react and jump.
10. Train movement in different planes (frontal, sagittal, transverse). Nothing in sport (except crossfit) occurs in one plane.
11. Have fun!
Pretty much two through ten is a small break down of number one. However, the key is to realize that for all athletes the above is what will put them down the path to be bigger, faster, stronger and in a position to specialize for their sport when they need to. Improving this list for all athletes is specific training and will make them better.