Youth Coaching Advice

What advice do you have for youth coaching in terms of analysing the demands of their sport before designing their youth programs?

Coaching young athletes is arguably the most critical time to get it right. The youthful days of strength and conditioning input are very formative, hence good technique and suitable exercise selection must be forthright in any planning.

We all know that good technique not only reduces injury, but it promotes better performance and thus should be promoted from day one. Strength and/or hypertrophy gains should always be forsaken to promote and/or correct good technique.

Young people need plenty of variety in all aspects of their training. This creates general improvements that later on can lead to specific gains. Where the sport concerned is one-sided (tennis, sweep or rowing) or unilaterally limb-dominant a thorough prehab program should be introduced early, carried out regularly, and be continually monitored. For one year I was in charge of the strength and conditioning at the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) in London and there were young kids there whacking a tennis ball for 4 – 5 hours per day and coaches were concerned that so many were breaking down and getting chronic injuries at early ages. It wasn’t ‘Rocket Science’: doing something so repetitive each day if not counter balanced by preventative or rehab interventions is courting disaster.

My advice to parents is, not to specialise too early, and if you do, get your child to play a good bilateral sport as well. I have always been of the opinion if kids specialise in individual sport at too early an age, they miss out on the positiveness of playing in a team and being in a team environment.

Should training differ between male and female athletes? Please explain.

Not really, I have done most of my professional work with male athletes, but I have also worked with many female athletes in a wide variety sports including rugby, tennis, surf boat rowing, hockey and triathlon. Apart from finding girls a bit more emotional, I can’t see appreciable differences.

At what age is it ideal to introduce speed training? Please explain.

Good Question. I don’t really know. If you are talking about speed technique (from a purely athletics point of view) I would say pretty early on. I don’t and never have considered myself a ‘speed’ coach. Mark Sayers an academic sprint coach who has worked with several leading sporting teams, notably The All Blacks and Wallabies wrote a very interesting paper a few years back. In it he said that to improve straight line speed in rugby players by simply improving technique is virtually impossible and if it were possible would become far too much time in the training week.

Once bad or poor habits have been developed it is very difficult to change them. (So, I guess speed technique would be very beneficial early on). Sayers went on to say, and I totally agree with him, that the most profitable time to improve sport, would be spent on improving the acceleration, or power phase.  Also, it must be noted that the average speed effort in rugby league, rugby union and soccer (EPL) was, and is less than 12 metres. This represents almost totally the acceleration phase.

Which should a coach prioritize first – strength or speed? Please explain.

Strength always. We are predisposed to our muscle fibre make up. Our speed development potential should always follow the safe and proven guidelines of getting muscles bigger and stronger and then developing power. Those that tend to go speed first, anecdotally seem to attain early speed gains but never create a proper strength and power base to drive optimum speed development.

Is it possible to estimate an athlete’s potential by looking at their body type? What are the three types of body types?

Yes, I believe body type and body shape do often determine first of all what type of sport a person plays, and usually what positions in that team that he or she ends up playing. When I was playing rugby at school the bigger kids were always put into the front row. If you were fast you played in the backs. If you were small you played half back and if you had a good aerobic engine you played back row.

If we look at the classical body types; mesomporph, ectomorph and endomorph one can see definite tendencies. Endomorphs don’t get involved in much sporting activity. They tend to play (and are often good at) sports such as golf or darts. They find it harder in aerobic sports. Mesomorphs lean to the contact sports and are often best suited to sport like rugby and rugby league. They tend to shy away from pure aerobic sports and tend to play positions in team sports where size, strength and power are reliable assets.

Ectomorphs play a wide range of sports. They can play contact sports but usually don’t get involved in the heavy contact. They also lean-to racquet sports and a wide variety of aerobic sports such as rowing, triathlon and distance running. When mesomorphs and ectomorphs begin to specialise in one sport or activity, they tend to actually develop an even more defined body shape, depending on the needs of the sport.

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